The Word Book

The Word Book

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By Mieko Kanai

Translated by Paul McCarthy

ISBN: 9781564785664

Publication Date: 10/8/2009

Like the surfaces of a jagged crystal, each story in the collection shows us an entirely different, distorted facet of a whole.
Playing games with the basic units of both life and fiction—the solid certainties of the self, the world around us, and the words we use to describe these things—Mieko Kanai creates a reality where nothing is certain, where a little boy going out to run errands for his mother might find that he's an adult, and his mother long dead, at the end of a single train ride. Using precise language to describe dreamlike plots owing as much to Kafka and Barthelme as to Kenzaburō Ōe and the long tradition of the Japanese folktale of the macabre, The Word Book is an unforgettable voyage to absurd, hilarious, and terrifying locales, and is the English-language debut of one of the most original Japanese writers working today.


“Kanai has an ephemeral sensuality that offsets and compliments her modulated voices, who guide you through mini epics in this crisp, cool collection.” —Bret McCabe, Baltimore City Paper

“Kanai's stories remind me of Italo Calvino or Jorge Luis Borges, with their stylistically vague flatness yet strong character-driven underpinnings . . . I highly recommended them and look forward to more.” —Todd Shimoda, Asian Review of Books

“Realities shift and are at once dreamlike and tangible. The range of subject matter and register is dazzling.” —Steve Finbow, The Japan Times

Biographical Information

Poet, fiction-writer, and film critic Mieko Kanai was born in 1947. Citing influences ranging from Borges to Jean-Luc Godard, her work is at the vanguard of contemporary Japanese prose, and her poems, stories, and essays appear regularly in major newspapers, magazines, and literary journals.

Paul McCarthy, Professor of Comparative Culture at Surugadai University in Japan, has translated work by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki, Takeshi Umehara, Zenno Ishigami, and Atsushi Nakajima.