Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima
Hopefully for most readers it'll go without saying that Yuko Tsushima was a highly prominent figure of Japanese literature, known not only for her writing, her novels and stories were awarded many of the country's top literary prizes, including the Tanizaki, Yomiuri and Kawabata Prizes, but also she herself sat on numerous literary award panels, and of course her father was Osamu Dazai, with her passing at the beginning of last year, Territory of Light, translated by Geraldine Harcourt is a timely and welcome addition to her works available in English. Appearing as a Penguin Classic the book unfolds over the course of a year, with each chapter unfolding within a month and rather interestingly Penguin have decided to release the book in it's entirety and complete form in April 2018 offering monthly installments to selected readers. As a reader this is a first for me, I've not read a book in this progressive way before, so my posts on the book will appear each month as I receive them, so as we begin I offer great thanks to Penguin for including me on the list.
This opening chapter is April and for the moment the narrator remains nameless, describing the apartment she has recently moved into with her three year old daughter, the narrative begins to waver between past and present tenses in describing, partially, events in her separation with her husband, which appears to be at his instigation, toward the chapter's close it's revealed another woman is involved, but how permanent this relationship is remains uncertain. A deal of this first chapter is taken up with descriptive passages of the apartment, in a sense the prose carries a topographical element, the fixity of place seems to be subconsciously explored. The narrator occupies the top floor of a four storey building, we see her views, snapshots of the external world passing by, the nearby train station, the positioning of windows and what is seen through them, and of course a sense of light, and at times it's absence is prevalent. Single motherhood is a theme that concerned and preoccupied Tsushima's writing a great deal, Territory of Light appears to continue to explore the subject further, there are fledgling signs that the narrator is caught inbetween her parents, her husband and societal conventions, her husband's irresponsibility in regard to her and his daughter becoming apparent, despite this the narrator bears a defiant independence, wanting to keep his influence at a distance, she has her own job at a library for a radio station, relying on her mother to care for her daughter between the childcare. Although the sense that her husband desires continuing contact remains, for how long or whether this will be the beginning of the bone of contention of the novel will maybe begin to emerge into the next chapter.
As with the publisher's description the prose has a luminosity, descriptions of light feel as if their always only a few sentences or passages away, and in this opening chapter we begin to see shadows beginning to be cast by it's principal characters, and whilst reading you get a sense of the potential clash of interests that'll begin to open up between them, added to this the prose also carries the brittle fragility of a recovery. Another aspect is a spatial one, initially with her husband, the narrator searches for an apartment after the rather enigmatic separation, and although the proportions of these buildings is small, for the narrator they represent much larger emotional spaces, the chapter ends with the narrator envisioning a potentially larger canvas for their small space, and before closing a repeating motif also stays in the forefront of the mind - a poem from Goethe, which the narrator has to find for a request at the library, the opening lines repeated - 'Quick now, give up this idle pondering! And lets be off into the great wide world!', it feels it has the tone of a decisive mantra of protection against the vicissitudes forthcoming, but I guess that'll be further revealed for next month.
Territory of Light at Penguin Classics