‘Territory of Light’ by Yuko Tsushima – A Young Mother and Her Daughter on Their Own in Tokyo


‘Territory of Light’ by Yuko Tsushima   (1979) – 183 pages    Translated from the Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt

‘Territory of Light’ is the story of a young mother in Tokyo going through a separation from her husband. It covers the same terrain as quite a few United States novels, a woman and her 3 year old daughter on their own. The aesthetic qualities of ‘Territory of Light’ are unique, but it turns out that getting separated and divorced wasn’t all that different in Tokyo in the Seventies from what it was in the United States. The young mother is the narrator here, and it is her husband Fujino who initiated the separation because he was seeing a different woman. However when he sees that his separated wife is enjoying life alone with her daughter, he starts showing up suddenly and unexpectedly.

What the hell was I thinking, he demanded to know, and how could I hate him so much? I looked on in silence, ruefully aware that I didn’t hate him at all. I was just too scared of him in this state to say anything.”

He is angry with her for calmly going along with the separation. He claims he has no money for child support which very likely is true since he is trying to get somewhere with a theater group.

Every woman thinks it’s going to be different for her, but she ends up at the bottom of the heap all the same.”

After a search for a new apartment, she finds one on the top, the fourth floor, of a converted office building. She and her daughter are the only ones who live in the building.

An unusual feature of ‘Territory of Light’ is that even though the narrator’s young daughter is one of the main characters in the novel appearing in many scenes, we readers never find out her name. It is always “my daughter”.

The three year old daughter is cute of course, but also sometimes quite irritating and gets on her mother’s nerves. One night while her daughter is sleeping in their top-of-the-building apartment, the mother goes out alone to a bar. This is probably dangerous, but the narrator is honest and forthright about her isolated situation.

As the novel’s title, ‘Territory of Light’, suggests, it has a fair share of subtleties about the qualities of light and the interpretation of dreams which were rather lost on me. However the realistic details of the story are precise, unique, and effective, and the reader gets a good sense of what life is like for this separated woman and her daughter in Tokyo.

Apparently Yuko Tsushima wrote this novel day-to-day while she herself was going through a very similar separation and divorce. She said she wrote only of what she herself experienced.

‘Territory of Light’ is in the running for the Best Translated Book Award of 2020. It is an honest vivid account of a separation without sentimentality or self-pity.



Grade:    B



4 responses to this post.

  1. Only a ‘B’? I loved this book and her honesty about how hard it is to be a single parent.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Not for me, I’m well and truly over this type of novel.
    (And seriously, leaving a three-year-old alone at night like that? What kind of person does that??)

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, that stunned me too, leaving a kid who just turned three alone sleeping while she goes out to a bar. But it does happen, and I suppose she should get points for honesty.
      And you are also right that there have been an awful lot of “my separation and divorce” novels.



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