Facing the Bridge by Yoko Tawada: a Critique

Published: 2021-09-06 14:05:16
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Yoko Tawada, born in 1960 in Tokyo, serves as an inspiration to all aspiring authors; she has been awarded literature prizes for her works written in Japanese and German. One of her lesser known novels, Facing the Bridge, perfectly illustrates the frustration of being in a place where one does not feel a sense of belonging. The chapter “The Shadow Man” in Facing the Bridge by Yoko Tawada is perhaps the most enthralling chapter within the novel, as it combines dream-like fantasies with distorted flashbacks and nightmares. “The Shadow Man” chronicles Tamao, a Japanese exchange student in Wolfenbüttel, and Amo, a young boy from Ghana who is taken by the slave trade and raised by the Duke of Braunschweig. Tawada weaves a dreamlike narrative in which Amo and Tamao are connected, although they live centuries apart. Their interest in philosophy is one common thread which Amo and Tamao share; Tamao is studying Lessing and 18th century Enlightenment and Amo, it is learned, will become the first African to be awarded a doctorate in philosophy from a European university (29).
Another theme which entwines them together is their uniquely strange dreams and sensation of a separate soul; either their own or another’s. After arriving in Amsterdam, Amo is initially plagued by nightmares involving ships and sharks. His unsettling dreams do not subside even after he moves to Wolfenbüttel; he often conjures up images of acquaintances close to him, such as his professor. “[Professor Ludwig] looked like a doll kneaded from mud, and when the light struck him at certain angles, his face resembled that of different men. He didn’t have eyes” (37). Amo believes that his soul leaves him at night, allowing for the night terrors to engulf him. Tamao also dreams about people he knows, such as Nana, a foreign exchange student like himself who vexes him. He occasionally drifts off into a daydreaming state, in which words become unattached from meaning or thought. When Tamao encounters Manfred, whose eyes reflect no soul, he notices that “his lips formed the vowels like an actor practicing voice projection, but no sound emerged” (10). Similarly, as Tamao engages in conversation with Nana he realizes his voice is drifting farther away. “He knew he was talking. He just couldn’t keep up with the continuous spray of words and lost all track of any meaning” (36). Tawada’s first chapter ends with vague conclusion; Tamao hears mention of Amo again and, two centuries in the past, Amo embarks on a journey to Africa. The cross of cultures and histories, along with the interspersed surreality, create a captivating narrative in “The Shadow Man.” The remainder of the novel passes the focus onto other individuals, time periods apart, who somehow share uncanny similarities. By connecting different peoples, cultures, and centuries, Yoko Tawada presents the ultimate truth: fundamentally, individuals are all the same beings.

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