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Yūko Tsushima: 光の領分 (Territory of Light)

Our unnamed heroine/narrator (we know only that her husband was called Furino and thus she is Mrs. Fujino) has recently separated from her husband. There is a two-year old daughter. It seems he has another relationship but, despite this, still seems quite controlling.

She had naturally started to look for a new flat but he had insisted on accompanying her so every lunch hour the couple went off to find a flat for her and their daughter. They found that the flats were generally too expensive or not suitable but they continued. Eventually, he had other commitments and could not accompany her and that is when she found the perfect flat. The entire building had been bought by a successful businesswoman, Mrs Fujino (no relation) and she was unsure of its sales potential so the flats were relatively cheap. Our narrator rented one on the top floor which was ideal. It was relatively spacious, had access to the roof, with views over Tokyo, and every room had an abundance of light, hence the title of the book.

Her husband keeps pestering her, though she really does not want to see him again. She has a job as a librarian and leaves her daughter with her mother, who lives nearby. Much of the novel tells of how she struggles, not very well, with the problems of being on her own, bringing up her at times difficult daughter, fending off her husband, dealing with the pressures put on her by others to remain with him and coping wit the problems in her flat.

She wishes that she were still married, as she had got used to it but, at the same time, does not want to be married to Mr. Fujino. He is still controlling and bullying. For example, on one occasion, she feels the need to get out of the flat. Her daughter is fast asleep so she slips out and bumps into an acquaintance. They go for a drink. When she returns, her husband is waiting outside the flat and not only berates her but hits her. She does retaliate. He later tells everyone that she is a drunk and a terrible mother.

Her daughter frequently cries at night and this naturally disturbs our narrator’s sleep, which she badly needs. We assume that the daughter is not surprisingly upset by the breakup of her parents’ marriage. Sunday is our narrator’s only day off and she likes to sleep in but her daughter will not allow this. She occasionally drinks too much whisky in an attempt to stop myself being woken.

She receives various phone calls from acquaintances of her husband, encouraging her to stay in the marriage, telling her how difficult it is for a woman on her own and how she will never find anyone else. She is polite but ignores them.

She has now realised that she must be not only a mother to her daughter but a father as well, which include such things as carrying her when she is tired. She also finds this difficult. Yet, she is convinced that her husband is not interested in having custody of the child or even seeing her much, but is merely trying to control her. He is, after all, living with another woman.

She also feels that she has become something of a social leper. She tries to organise a birthday celebration, inviting former joint acquaintances round but all make excuses for not coming.

There are problems with the flat. There is a leak that seems to be coming from her flat but she cannot see, which is affecting the people below. This takes some time and effort to resolve. It also seems that her daughter throws things out of the flat which land on the roof of the dilapidated house of an elderly couple. They are naturally annoyed with this and get the landlady to put up window coverings.

This is not a happy story. Basically, it is simply the story of a woman struggling to cope. She finds it difficult being a single mother; difficult dealing with a troublesome child; difficult making friends; difficult defending her position as a woman without a husband; difficult dealing with her husband; difficult in being responsible for a flat; difficult dealing with life. She turns to drink, has casual sex and, above all, seeks solace in sleep, when her daughter lets her. Her best time seems to be when her daughter is staying with a friend. Initially, the light of the title seems to be a help but she loses that.

The novel is, at least in part, autobiographical. Our heroine has a mother (of whom we hear but never meet) but no father is mentioned. Tsushima’s father killed himself when she was only one. She is often ambivalent – as regards her husband, feeling that she wants a husband but not wanting anything to do with Mr. Fujino and as regards her daughter, loving her but often getting exasperated with her. Even with sex, the casual sex offers no satisfaction. There is no happy ending.

Publishing history

First published in 1979 by Kodansha
First English translation in 2018 by Penguin
Translated by Geraldine Harcourt