Monday, September 26, 2011

Interesting Author Spotlight: 円城塔 (Enjoe Toh)

I came across this author by chance. I was looking through the Shinchou literary magazine's Twitter feed and noticed it mentioning a book that I thought had a very interesting title:

"This is a Pen"

I'm not going to lie—I'm a sucker for titles. The description on Amazon is interesting though:

"Uncle is a letter. Literally. A man who invented an automatic sentence generator and his brother who has vivid memories of a town that doesn't exist. A tale of twins that illuminates the origins of reading and writing."

Definitely sounds like something I would want to read. I did a little more research, and found out that "This is a Pen" was a finalist in the Akutagawa Prize earlier this year.

Then shit got real! In a strange instance of serendipity/coincidence/it's-a-small-world-after-all-ism, I actually own two pieces by Enjoe Toh. In the January 2011 issue of Bungakukai, he has a short story called "Magnitude," and he has a story (novella, perhaps, it's very long) in the Best Sci-Fi of 2007 collection "Imaginary Engines," the same collection that contained the 2010 Kurodahan Translation Prize piece "忠告."

Anyway, he sounds like an interesting author. He graduated from Tohoku University studying physics, and then went to Tokyo University for graduate school. Wikipedia doesn't specify him as anything besides a novelist, but he definitely seems to have a sci-fi bent. For instance, another short story title: "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire."

He's had other pieces nominated for the Akutagawa, but he has yet to win it. However he has won the Noma Literary Prize and the Bungakukai New Writer's Prize, and has been nominated for the Gunzo New Writer's Prize and the Yukio Mishima Prize. 

I started reading "Magnitude," but it's...confusing. I'm not even sure I can explain it. It starts by explaining some sort of weird number theory. Here's a very short, probably poor translation of the very beginning:


In twenty years, we learn the world approaches ten.

Now is still nine. They say a hundred years ago was eight. China and India, nine. The entire planet, nine. Only Japan is eight. Next, they say, decline will begin, and in time, it might be seven. It was seven a hundred years ago.

I am 0..."

It goes on to explain a very strange theory about zero and it's relationship to other numbers, and how zero is also known as, you guessed it, "magnitude."

I...don't even know. I plan on spending some more time fighting my way through this story, but I'm not sure what I'm going to get out of it. "Palimpsest" is quite long, but since I have it, I might as well take a look.

If you want to try reading some Enjoe Toh for yourself, he has a serialized Twitter novel at the username @EnJoe140, separate from his own Twitter account @EnJoeToh. I think it's all done; it hasn't been updated since September 17th.

You can also pick up Kurodahan Press's Speculative Japan 2, which has a translation of Enjoe's story "Freud" (haven't read it, but of course, now I want to).  

Enjoe Toh might be a name to look out for in the future.


  1. His works sound pretty interesting! Very surreal.
    I've got to check out that Twitter novel. ^^

  2. I just read Enjoe Toh for the first time recently (『道化師の蝶』)and found it to be thoroughly enjoyable. I'd love to check out more of his work.
    Thanks for the twitter links! I hadn't even thought of looking for something like that.

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