In Denmark, a linguist named Knut is watching a TV show about people from in countries that no longer exist. One woman catches his attention in particular, with her unusual name (Hiruko), appearance (she looks a bit like Björk on that album cover), and language (she speaks a pan-Scandinavian tongue of her own devising).
Knut sets out to meet Hiruko and find out more about her. Hiruko’s country has vanished beneath the sea, and with it any knowledge of the word ‘Japan’ – as just one example, Knut thinks that sushi is Finnish. What Hiruko wants most of all is to find someone else who speaks her native tongue. Knut resolves to help her, and they set off on a journey across Europe.
Along the way, Hiruko and Knut gain several fellow-travellers, including Akash, a trans Marathi-speaking student, and Tenzo, who turns out to be a Greenlander rather than Japanese. Everyone is between worlds in some way. Different characters narrate across Tawada’s novel, so that no one is truly at the centre. What we then have is an exuberant exploration of how language can help to make and remake identity, and how we might find different ways to belong.
Published by Granta Books.