Saturday, 21 March 2009

Yasutaka Tsutsui

My last day in Japan was also the most memorable one. It was the day I met Yasutaka Tsutsui, author of three of our books – most recently Paprika, which has just been released in the UK.

Tsutsui is an author of rare quality: his works are literary, yet accessible – traditional, yet adventurous – zany, yet intelligent – humorous, yet deep. I remember when I received a submission from his translator Andrew Driver around three years ago. It was a collection of thirteen short stories – Tales from the Edge, or something like that. I was bowled over – who the heck is this guy? And I thought – just like Nick Lezard, who recently reviewed Tsutsui’s Hell in the Guardian – that he must be some thirty-something poking fun at current Japanese mores and at our celebrity-obsessed and politically hyper-correct society. I was shocked when I found out the writer was a man in his seventies, possibly more revered than Murakami in his home country. The stories, written mostly in the Seventies, turned out to be a prophetic lurch into the future – not surprising considering that a great part of Tsutsui’s long and prolific career had been devoted to the science-fiction genre.

Tales from the Edge was not a terribly sexy title to launch a new writer in this country, so I persuaded the translator to add a long novella to the collection, Salmonella Men on Planet Porno – arguably not the most powerful story in this excellent volume, but one that could attract attention and give a better idea of what Tsutsui’s fiction was about.

There are authors that you know you will like when you meet them: you have a peculiar foreboding that you would like to spend time with them and have a tea or a beer or meal together. I knew that Tsutsui would be one of those, and when he opened his beautiful house to me (and my kind interpreter Yurika) and I sat close to him, I had a feeling we had known each other for years. Conversation was easy, and we spent over one hour an a half talking about literature, his work, his new novel, the current global economical crisis and the Japanese literary scene. Surprisingly, there was no language or cultural barrier between us, and we joked and laughed as freely as if we were speaking in a common tongue.

I hope to see him again soon.


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