Japanese Canadian Hiromi Goto's novel The Kappa Child was chosen to receive the 2001 James Tiptree Jr. Award this past April. Announcing the award, jury members wrote:
The Kappa Child is a delightful, wholly original book, a multi-layered story of dysfunctional family life, unexpected pregnancy, true friendship, alien abduction, budding romance and intimate encounters with mythical creatures. The prose glides from the narrator's real-time life (shopping cart collections, poor self-image, cucumber binges, halting if not downright painful interactions with family and friends), to her childhood recollections (presented in hilarious, heartbreaking contrast to Little House on the Prairie), to her recent encounters with the Stranger/Kappa, to brief meditations about water, birth, growth, identity (as told by the Kappa? the magically conceived ferns? the narrator's nascent self? all of the above?) There's so much vivid imagery here: lots of water, lots of green; and many oppositional references to American television and Japanese mythology. This is definitely a trickster's tale; things are not what they seem. The narrator's subservient, long-suffering mother is revealed as an ali en abductee quite capable of self-actualization and self-defense. The narrator finds that she herself is not as isolated as she'd believed and that her sisters are not as shallow, spacey or damaged. The kappa itself is a genderless entity, no nipples or navel, for all that it first appears as a woman in a red silk wedding dress. This trickster is a loving one; by the book's conclusion, there's reconciliation, friendship, romance and rain.
The Women's Review invited Tiptree Motherboard member Debbie Notkin to talk with Hiromi Goto about her work.
DN: Can you start by telling us about the figure of the kappa, which appears not only in The Kappa Child but also in your children's book, The Water of Possibility?
HG: I first heard about the kappa from my father, who grew up in the countryside in Japan. The figure is very popular in folk legend and very much part of the cultural vocabulary today. I was fascinated, hearing about it as a child, because by then we were living in British Columbia. In a North American context, it is a fantastic creature. A lot of Japanese folk creatures can be seen as malevolent or mischievous, but they also have the capacity to help humans-this ambiguity is rife with possibilities for a writer and placing a kappa into "foreign" North American terrain causes two distinct narratives to explode into wild possibilities.
The kappa is like an …