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Yuko Tsushima

Territory of Light

The highly regarded Japanese novelist Yūko Tsushima, who died two years ago, drew on her own experiences for this 1979 novel, translated by Geraldine Harcourt, about a single mother struggling to build a life in Tokyo. Its 12 linked tales of the city are fine-grained to the point of mundanity – finding an apartment, discovering a leak, visiting a park – but in Tsushima’s hands they achieve a deceptive, luminous clarity. The territory of the title is a flat “with an unusual layout in a dilapidated office building ... on a three-way intersection” – an unpromising but much-treasured first room of one’s own: “The two-mat bedroom was as small as a linen cupboard, and I felt at home.” Tsushima is honest about her narrator’s difficulties: she boozes, leaves the chores undone and hurls “vile abuse” at her two-year-old daughter when woken in the night. But the two are peas in a pod – each spirited, a poor fit for conventionality, they jump in puddles and swing between screaming matches and fierce tenderness. In this short, powerful novel lurk the joy and guilt of single parents everywhere.

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