‘Tokyo Ueno Station’ Wins National Book Award

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The 71st annual National Book Awards were presented online on Nov. 18.

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are American literary prizes administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization. A pantheon of writers such as William Faulkner, Marianne Moore, Ralph Ellison, John Cheever, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Robert Lowell, Walker Percy, John Updike, Katherine Anne Porter, Norman Mailer, Lillian Hellman, Elizabeth Bishop, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich, Thomas Pynchon, Alice Walker, E. Annie Proulx, Jesmyn Ward, and Ta-Nehisi Coates have all won National Book Awards.

Although other categories have been recognized in the past, the awards currently honor the best in the following categories — Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature — published each year. This year’s winners:

Fiction — “Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu (Pantheon Books/Penguin Random House)

Nonfiction — “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X” by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (Liveright/W.W. Norton & Company)

Poetry — “DMZ Colony” by Don Mee Choi (Wave Books)

Translated Literature — “Tokyo Ueno Station” by Yu Miri (Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House)

Young People’s Literature — “King and the Dragonflies” by Kacen Callender (Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc.)

About ‘Tokyo Ueno Station’

Yu Miri

From the publisher: “Kazu is dead. Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Japanese emperor, his life is tied by a series of coincidences to the imperial family and has been shaped at every turn by modern Japanese history. But his life story is also marked by bad luck, and now, in death, he is unable to rest, doomed to haunt the park near Ueno Station in Tokyo.

“Kazu’s life in the city began and ended in that park; he arrived there to work as a laborer in the preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and ended his days living in the vast homeless village in the park, traumatized by the destruction of the 2011 tsunami and shattered by the announcement of the 2020 Olympics.

“Through Kazu’s eyes, we see daily life in Tokyo buzz around him and learn the intimate details of his personal story, how loss and society’s inequalities and constrictions spiraled towards this ghostly fate, with moments of beauty and grace just out of reach. A powerful masterwork from one of Japan’s most brilliant outsider writers, ‘Tokyo Ueno Station’ is a book for our times and a look into a marginalized existence in a shiny global megapolis.”

Morgan Giles

Judges’ citation: “This deft translation by Morgan Giles of Korean-Japanese writer Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station is a welcome and necessary addition to the translated Japanese canon, which unfolds in the memories of a deceased narrator occupying the eponymous train station. The book is an observation of Japan at the gateway of its capital, at multiple thresholds of shifting eras, told in the bardo of a mourning father and compatriot, reciting his surroundings and circumstances as if a prayer, a mantra.”

Yu Miri is a writer of plays, prose fiction, and essays, with over 20 books to her name. She received Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, and her bestselling memoir was made into a movie. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, she began to visit the affected area, hosting a radio show to listen to survivors’ stories. She relocated to Fukushima in 2015 and has opened a bookstore and theatre space to continue her cultural work in collaboration with those affected by the disaster.

Morgan Giles is a Japanese translator and reviewer. She lives in London.

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