Territory of Light

A novel by Yuko Tsushima


Looking down at the stagnant green water, I could picture as in a dream or a film that spot as it had appeared back then, some fifteen years earlier: a spot clad in flowers and fruit trees, where the sunshine seemed to have congealed. It was bright and tranquil, disquietingly so. No one must ever 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 once ever going through the gate.

I noticed this book whenever I was in a bookstore on a trip to the city with some of my close friends. I recognised the name, so I picked it up and inspected it a bit more. It caught my interest, and I decided to buy it.

The version that I bought has a very nice cover. The photograph on it is lovely. It looks like this.

Taking place in 1970s Tokyo, Japan, this book focuses on a nameless woman (whose husband recently abruptly left her) that is looking for a new apartment with her three-year-old daughter. Attempting to support them both, this story follows her first year as a single mother.

One thing that I was not aware of upon beginning to read this book was that the author is Osamu Dazai's daughter. If you are not sure of who Osamu Dazai is, he was a Japanese author, and he wrote Schoolgirl, a novella that I enjoy a lot, No Longer Human, a modern-day classic which is well-known (but I found underwhelming, personally) and has been adapted into a manga by Junji Ito, and also The Setting Sun, another modern-day classic.

On June 13, 1948, Dazai and his lover, Tomie Yamazaki, drowned themselves when Yuko Tsushima was one year old.

This book is short, but it took me a while to read, as it felt surprisingly dense. I don't have a huge amount to say about it, but I did want to write a few things.

I really loved the descriptions in this book. Many of them felt dream-like, which I enjoyed. I find it rather difficult to explain how they were to me, honestly, because they seemed to me to be rather surreal, but also familiar — not nonsensical, but they made me feel nostalgic, if that makes sense.

I have not read many books with a focus on parenthood at all. This was a welcome change, and if this book has done anything for me, it has caused me to want to read more stories with a focus on this. There was no sugar-coating in this novel, and the frustrations the protagonist experienced (and her unfiltered thoughts) were displayed clearly, which was interesting.

Despite her very reckless and confusing behaviour at times, I found it relatively easy to sympathise with the protagonist. I enjoyed this book, even though not a huge amount happened within it, as I didn't feel it was drawn out, and had plenty of stunning images and interesting interactions between mother and daughter scattered throughout.

It has been a while since I read this book now, but I often find myself thinking about it and wanting to read it again. The descriptions were lovely, and reading about the protagonist's experiences as she tries to raise her young daughter on her own continues to be enjoyable, even though I am now revisiting them.

This is not my favourite book, by any means, but I did enjoy the writing, and I found myself absorbed in reading it. If you're looking for a novel in which a lot happens, I would not recommend this. However, if you're looking for nice imagery and (what I feel is) elegant writing, I would.