cover image Three Streets

Three Streets

Yoko Tawada, trans. from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani. New Directions, $17.95 trade paper (64p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2930-2

In Tawada’s ruminative collection of three fantastic tales (after The Emissary), a nameless, wandering narrator moves between contemporary Berlin and an imaginary realm of poets and ghosts. A trip to an organic food store with a ghostly child in “Kollwitz Strasse” sets the narrator to thinking about the sketches of Käthe Kollwitz, a German artist who drew heartrending pictures of “poverty that individuals can’t be held responsible for.” In “Majakowskiring,” the narrator walks through a quiet part of what was once East Berlin, thinking about a woman who’s “a typical West Berliner” and therefore couldn’t be bothered to visit that neighborhood, then enters a mysterious restaurant in which a photograph of the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky comes to life. And in “Pushkin Allee,” the narrator envisions the lives and motivations of Red Army soldiers, workers, and a German child memorialized in a park. Though the stories share a concern with the politics and the disasters of the 20th century, it is Tawada’s astute, observational asides that will remain with readers: city life is “an amusement park of the senses... full of people you might have met.” Brief and surprising, these stories reinvent familiar landmarks and artworks, giving readers an imaginative and hopeful way to grapple with the history that’s written into the urban landscape. (Aug.)