Archive for the ‘Yuko Tsushima’ Category

Territory of Light

May 30, 2018

Yuko Tsushima’s 1979 novel Territory of Light, now translated by Geraldine Harcourt, tells the story of a young woman who is separated from her husband and living alone with her two-year-old daughter. Its optimistic title reflects the new life she begins in her own apartment:

“I crowed to myself that this was the apartment for me. The red floor blazed in the setting sun. The long-closed, empty rooms pulsed with light.”

Even when the apartment floods as the result of a leak in the building’s water tower, it creates something magical in the eyes of the narrator and her daughter:

“Where there should have been a perfectly dry roof, water rippled and sparkled. A great expanse of clear water… That night, I took off my shoes and had a high old time in the roof-top ‘sea’ with my daughter.”

However, the territory of light also suggests an emptiness and her life is far from easy. Loneliness in particular afflicts her. When, looking for her daughter in the park, she comes across another mother she recognises from her daughter’s day-care, begins to imagine a scenario where the two children play together:

“’This is fun, don’t you think?’ the woman would ask me, dropping her voice, and I’d nod vigorously…”

On her daughter’s third birthday her idea of inviting people over, only results in a couple of hurried phone calls on the day to distant friends who have other plans. Once her daughter is asleep, her loneliness drives her to a bar where she gets drunk with another woman, returning home to find her husband waiting for her, appalled at her behaviour. (The other woman’s apartment is later burned down; in a novel where living space is important, this seems a commentary on her inability to provide a home, a fear which haunts the narrator). A homeless woman they greet on the way to the day-care centre also provides a potential future.

Later her loneliness will later see her sleep with one of the fathers from the day-care centre. When, having invited him to her apartment, she spills some ice, she is momentarily angry (“Did it never occur to you to give me a hand?”) but when he goes to leave she pleads with him, “Don’t leave like that. Please stay…” Her need for company is also demonstrated when Sugiyama, a young man her husband tutored, becomes a frequent visitor:

“Considering his age, though, there was always the worry that we’d seen the last of him, that he’d never give those Sundays at my apartment another thought.”

She invitees him to stay with her (“Think of it as communal living”) and when he tells her he is not interested and, embarrassed by her request, hangs up the phone, she continues to talk to him while her daughter listens.

Her husband, Fujino, is a frequent if indistinct presence in the novel. The narrator seems torn between wanting their relationship to resume and feeling an anger she finds difficult to repress when she sees or hears from him. Initially she wonders, “Wasn’t there still a chance I’d hear him laugh it all off as a joke tomorrow?” When he phones her at work, however, “I tensed, determined to blame it all on Fujino.” She denies him access to his daughter, arguing that she needs to first adjust to her new life, but:

“What I was really thinking, deep down, was that with time she might forget her father and he might get over it.”

At times, they confront each other physically, as when he finds her drunk having left her daughter in the apartment:

“I scratched his face, pulled his hair, tried to throttle him. I was quickly flung off. Again I hurled myself on top of him and again I was sent flying.”

Yuko makes it difficult for the reader to form a judgement: we are given little indication of why the couple have split up (though there is reference to Fujino living with another woman), and each of them seem to vacillate between reason and rage. Rather than being a novel of taking sides, Yuko’s focus is the year the narrator needs to move on with her life; it is a novel of transition.

Her journey is unconscious as well as conscious, and the narrator’s dreams are an important part of her story:

“In my sleep, I wandered into some dunes. The wind – so strong I couldn’t keep my eyes open – was blasting my whole body with sand. There I was surrounded by sand as far as the eye could see, and all I could do was marvel at the vastness of the dunes.”

There is a temptation to interpret every dream she describes, but this is dangerously reductive. More importantly, her lack of autonomy in her dreams reflects the loss of control she feels in her life, creating a pervasive anxiety which characterises the novel’s atmosphere. Yuko is particularly successful at blending the narrator’s dreamscape into what is a largely domestic novel.

As we are told at the beginning, the novel ends when she moves out of her apartment one year later. The apartment is the transitional year between marriage and divorce, between one identity and another. (That the narrator’s married name is also the name of the owner, and therefore the building, emphasises this connection). Territory of Light is an excellent short novel which captures the movement between one life and another with unvarnished precision, the ‘muddling through’ the year-long ‘epiphany,’ that is typical of lived experience.

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