Territory of Light – by Yuko Tsushima

Territory of Light contains 12 chapters published in 12 parts in the Japanese literary monthly Gunzo from 1978 to 1979. They are fragments of life of an unnamed woman (the narrator of the novel) who just split up with her husband and rented an apartment in Tokyo with her three year old daughter. The apartment they lived in was filled with light from the windows on all sides, thus the title.


“But once you got the door open, the apartment was filled with light at any hour of the day. The kitchen and dining area immediately inside had a red floor  which made the aura all the brighter. Entering from the dimness of the stairwell, you practically had to squint.”


These 12 stories followed her life over the course of a year telling us her distress, frustration, and depression being a single mother without any support. These fears and frustrated feelings were subconsciously reflected in her dreams, thus there were a lot of lyrical descriptions of dreams and observations of light in the novel.


“I used to think I must never tell anybody about this discovery of mine. No one else must know about this place that made me yearn to dissolve until I became a particle of light myself. The way that light cohered in one place was unearthly. I gazed at its stillness without ever going in through the gate.”


Yuko Tsushima was the daughter of the famous writer Osamu Dazai, and a single mother herself. Her works are usually considered to give voice to the marginalized, in this case single mothers in Japanese society 40 years ago.

Reading this novel reminded me of the frustrating aspect of motherhood, which was also expressed by the young mother in The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani, or the writer who frustratingly and depressingly debated the question of motherhood in Motherhood by Sheila Heti. That is to say this novel, though written 40 years ago in Japan, still has the universal attraction to worldwide readers nowadays.

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