If you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ll know that I have a largely unexplained love for novels translated from Japanese. So when Yuko Tsushima’s 122-page novella Territory of Light appeared on my list of possible freebies from Amazon, I didn’t hesitate to click on ‘send me this item’.
Yuko Tsushima is the pen name of Satoko Tsushima daughter of famous novelist Osamu Dazai. In 1948, with Tsushima only one year of age, Dazai and Tsushima’s mother both committed suicide. Tsushima followed in her father’s footsteps and became an award-winning and much celebrated author, essayist and critic. Tsushima died in February 2016. Five of her fictional works have been translated into English all but one by Geraldine Harcourt. Harcourt who lives in Kamakura, Japan is an award winning translator and has helped give female Japanese authors a voice in English-speaking countries.
Territory of Light is a novel about isolation, desire and personal change. Originally published in 12 monthly instalments, between July 1978 and June 1979, in the Japanese literary publication Gunzo, each chapter follows a month in the life of a young mother abandoned by her husband.
She begins a new life for herself and her two-year-old daughter in a Tokyo apartment on the fourth floor of a dilapidated office building. The apartment is filled with sunlight, which pours through the large windows and delights her daughter. They also have access to the rooftop where they can look out across the rooftops of the city.
In contrast to this territory of light, the narrator finds herself slowly receding into darkness and struggling to form an identity separate from her estranged husband. As time goes on she must adapt to the changes in her life, the violent mood swings of her daughter, her repressed desires, lack of sleep and need to drink.
Tsushima drew on her own experiences for this 1979 novel and much like the work of Haruki Murakami her writing is concerned with such minutiae of everyday life that at times the poetry of her writing borders on the mundane.
There is little joy to be taken from the mother’s tale as she comes to terms with her new life. While she falls in love with the apartment she squirrels away in a small linen cupboard and wanders dreamily at night into the abandoned office space below her apartment. When she’s not caught up in reverie and reflection she is struggling to maintain a loving bond with her daughter. She frequently scolds her daughter and manically swings from these verbal attacks to cloying intimacy.
I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed reading this book as there seemed to be no satisfactory resolution, beyond an official divorce from her abusive husband. In fact, in the end she moves out of the apartment, perhaps viewing it as transitory and not wanting someone moving into her dreamy space one floor down, into a dismal and shadowy flat with hardly any natural sunlight and a cranky neighbour to boot. I’m not sure how this represents any progression and desperate for some kind of happy ending I felt let down.