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by Mieko Kanai
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Oh, Tama! takes the reader deep into the haphazard lives of Natsuyuki, the protagonist, and his loosely connected circle of dysfunctional acquaintances and family. Trying to keep some semblance of order and decency in his life, working as an occasional freelance photographer, Natsuyuki is visited by his delinquent friend Alexandre, who unexpectedly entrusts him with his sister's pregnant cat, Tama. Despite his initial protests, Natsuyuki accepts his new responsibility and cares compassionately for Tama and her kittens. Half-sister Tsuneko, meanwhile, is herself pregnant by one of several lovers, all patrons of the bar she runs. She contacts three of them, claiming each to be the father, and demands money. One of these is Fuyuhiko, the older half-brother of Natsuyuki, although he is not aware of this fact. When Fuyuhiko comes to Tokyo in search of Tsuneko, he gravitates to Natsuyuki's apartment, where he and Alexandre move in with the weak-willed Natsuyuki. Awarded the Women's Literature Prize in Japan, Oh, Tama! is the second book in the Mejiro Series, named after the area of Tokyo between the mega-towns of Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. The main characters (not to mention the author and her artist sister Kanai Kumiko) all live in this area. Most of the main characters in one book appear as side characters in the others. Natsuyuki and Alexandre, for example, appear in the third work in the series, Indian Summer. The protagonists of that book-Momoko, Hanako and Momoko's writer-aunt-all appear first in Oh, Tama!. These Mejiro texts are full of humor and irony. While earlier works of Kanai are noted for their surrealistic, sensuous and poetic style and arresting, at times violent themes, the Mejiro novels focus on the human comedy in the seemingly mundane, actual world. The protagonists of the series are, however, in one way or another engaged in creative or intellectual activities, even though they are often unemployed or at loose ends. While a few of the author's short stories, poems, and excerpts from her longer works were translated into English beginning in the late 1970's, and attracted some attention among feminist literary scholars, this is only the third book-length English translation of her work, following The Word Book and Indian Summer.
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An edition of this book was published by Kurodahan Press.
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