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Stories told through someone else’s voice

Posted December. 30, 2020 07:32,   

Updated December. 30, 2020 07:32


Art is often a product of sympathy. If the sympathy is directed towards the artist, it becomes even more truthful. “Tokyo Ueno Station” by Yu Miri who won the 2020 National Book Award (translated literature) vividly shows that side of art.  

Why is a novel that depicts a homeless person who lives around the Tokyo Ueno Station a product of sympathy towards the writer herself? She is a Korean Japanese who is neither fully Korean nor Japanese. In her schooldays, kids called her “germ” and refused to eat when she was in charge of distributing school lunch. On top of that, she was poor, which is why she never belonged to any group. “I feel like I am writing about my childhood in a metaphorical way when I write about homeless or socially marginalized people,” she said.  

The leading character in the novel was not always homeless. He had a wife and children in his hometown Fukushima. Due to poverty, he had to leave his hometown to earn money. He had to sacrifice himself for his family. When his son and wife died, however, he lost meaning in life. He had no one to earn money for. That is why he started to live nearby the train station. Other homeless people would also have their own stories. They ran away when the police searched around the area and came back to the station when it was done. They were kicked out over and over again. The main character lived that life and died.  

The writer lenders her own voice for abandoned lives that no one cares about. Her experience of being alienated has made her a writer who embraces the socially vulnerable. Yu now has a broader perspective for the world by changing the direction of sympathy from herself to others. I am grateful for her beautiful change.