Territory of Light by Yūko Tsushima

Territory of Light by Yūko Tsushima
Illuminating.

Yūko Tsushima (1947-2016) was an essayist, critic, and novelist. In Japan she’s thought of as one of the leading writers from her generation, but in the West remains a more obscure name from the long list of exceptional Japanese writers.

Territory of Light (1979) has a new edition out shortly, which should make her name more recognisable. Despite celebrating its 40th anniversary, the poetic and unique novella with themes of loneliness and personal transformation.

Territory of Light

It’s the story of a young woman living alone in Tokyo. She has a young daughter two years of age.

What follows are a dozen chapters, with the first dealing with the separation from her husband, the rest dealing with her life as a single-mother moving on from the loss of a stable relationship.

As the title suggests, this is far from a pessimistic or depressing story. As opposed to Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows, Tsushima’s novella celebrates the nature of light.

Not that it’s always a comforting or celebratory presence. Although it offers the young woman solace and reassurance (sunlight streaming through windows, dazzling days in the park), there’s also a more negative presence.

There are distant fireworks that explode menacingly, floodwater sparkling away, and more sinister explosions.

Meanwhile, the young woman succumbs to personal foibles. Drinking heavily and hurling verbal abuse at her daughter, you wonder what sort of future the pair has.

As such, Territory of Light provides a sense of disarming unease about the nature of life. So, yes, again there are ever-present existential undertones that mark out much of 20th-century literature.

But as a slight work of 128 pages, it’s something of a beacon of light for anyone wanting insights on dealing with loss. In fact, it might even prove an indulgent experience for single parents everywhere.

You can read this one and come out on the other side beaming with a sense of purpose – all rather impressive.

Sunlight

What is it with all this sunlight stuff? Well, it’s electromagnetic radiation blasted from the Sun – the big yellow thing up in the sky you can’t stare at without squinting.

Most of us generally think of sunlight as a positive thing. Radiant and warming, it can inject a spring into one’s step.

It does increase serotonin levels, which makes us feel rather upbeat. Vitamin D and all that.

But lurking ominously behind all the radiant joy are some serious consequences to light. Sunburn, illness, heat exhaustion, and climate change.

Tsushima’s novel channels that tumultuous relationships humans have with light rather well. And in your day-to-day life it’s worthwhile taking a moment each day to squint at that thing up there and wonder… why so radioactive, perfect sphere of hot plasma?

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