We’re ending the year with Chapter 1 of Scattered All Over the Earth, a near-future dystopian novel by Yoko Tawada. The novel, which was translated from Japanese to English by Margaret Mitsutani, is the first installment of a trilogy on identity, language, and borders (it also touches on climate change and what we remember/forget about other cultures).

In this chapter, the narrator is watching TV when he hears a language he can’t quite pin. As a linguist, he’s intrigued and listens closely to the interview. The woman, whose name is Hiruko, is asked which language she’s speaking. She replies “homemade language.” After having to move throughout Scandinavia, she figured it was easier to make an amalgamated language, which could be understood by most familiar with Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian. She continues by saying her previous homes are gone, and that she hopes that Denmark will survive, too. The narrator–still watching the interview from home–is even more intrigued; he calls the station and makes plans to meet her. When he meets her, he is transfixed and invites her out to eat sushi, a food that in the narrator’s dystopian mind is Finnish, but that the woman tells him is certainly not Finnish.

This month, our meeting will be asynchronous, so we’re going to leave the discussion questions in the section labelled “practice” below. We’d love to hear what you think about the questions and the reading in the comments!


  • Did Tawada's writing style resonate with you? Why or why not?

  • Do you normally read science fiction? If not, what do you normally read?

  • Let's talk about language: What do you think about the language Hiruko created? Why do you think the narrator is so transfixed by it?

  • Language comes in contact with other languages and inevitably changes (it's the reason why most of English comes from Latin). Why is the way Hiruko changes language so jarring?

  • Re-read the lines: "Listening to those strange sentences, I stopped worrying about whether or not they were grammatically correct, and felt I was gliding through water. From now on, maybe solid grammar would be replaced by some new grammar, more liquid or air-like." The narrator contrasts worrying about grammatical correctness and feeling free like water or air. What do you think the narrator means with these lines? Can you relate to this feeling in any way?