Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (#NovNov Translated Buddy Read)

With well over 100 posts, you all have already smashed last year’s totals for Novellas in November, and there’s still a week and a half to go! We’re grateful for your participation and hope some of you have been enjoying the buddy reads.

For literature in translation week, our readalong book has been Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima. As much a linked short story collection as a novella, it first appeared in monthly instalments in the Japanese literary magazine Gunzō in 1978–9 but wasn’t translated into English (by Geraldine Harcourt) until 2018, two years after Tsushima’s death. The translation was critically acclaimed, earning nominations for the 2019 Kirkus Prize and the 2020 BTBA Best Translated Book Award for Fiction.

The apartment had windows on all sides. I spent a year there, with my little daughter, on the top floor of an old four-storey office building.

Dark and carefully chiselled, the chapters are like tiny diamonds that you have to hold up to the light to see the glitter. Newly separated from her husband, the unnamed narrator, who works at a music library, entrusts us with vignettes from her first year of single parenthood. She is honest about her bad behaviour – the nights she got falling down drunk and invited men back to the apartment; the mornings she missed the daycare dropoff deadline and let her two-year-old fend for herself while she stayed in bed. Alongside the custody battle with her ex are smaller feuds, like with her neighbour, who’s had enough of the little girl dropping things onto his roof from the windows above and gets the landlord to do something about it.

Her daughter is a typical toddler, stubborn and impetuous, yet there are moments of intimacy between them that make your breath catch. Sometimes their roles even become reversed: the daughter nurses her mother through a bout of fever, and after the neighbour incident comforts her with words she’s received: “Mommy…are you all right? Don’t cry, there’s a good girl.”

The narrator describes her dreams, employing the imagery of fire and flight to capture her occasional hopelessness and longing for escape. Cherry trees are blossoming as they move into the apartment, and by the time they’re ready to move on again the spring is coming back. Details of sound and light make her observations zing. The clean, precise style – no frills, no tricks – reminds me of other autofiction in translation I’ve read. Others mention Elena Ferrante as a readalike, but what came to mind for me was Tove Ditlevsen’s trilogy, especially Dependency with its addiction theme. No doubt Harcourt should also be thanked for her crystal-clear rendition. It’s such a beautiful book, though perhaps already slipping from my grasp; I’m glad Cathy suggested it as our buddy read. (New purchase)

[122 pages]


Other reviews:







Keep in touch via Twitter (@bookishbeck / @cathy746books) and Instagram (@bookishbeck / @cathy_746books). We’ll add any of your review links in to our master posts. Feel free to use the terrific feature image Cathy made and don’t forget the hashtag #NovNov.

12 responses

  1. I read a tiny amount of Tsushima in the original and can confirm she has a deceptively simple style and that Geraldine Harcourt was the perfect translator for her. I hope more of her later work gets translated, but sadly it will have to be done bysomeone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I hadn’t heard about Harcourt’s death. I would certainly read more by Tsushima. It’s too bad it took so long for this to be available in English.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this too Rebecca

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a wonderful choice for the buddy read — thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (Rebecca at Bookish Beck) […]


  4. That sounds very intriguing and a great book for a buddy read, too. And I’m so glad the Month as a whole is doing well, I’m certainly loving taking part (and appreciating you adding reviews to your list as we all go!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The level of participation has been astonishing, really!


  5. What a beguiling cover!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do love the detail, colour and perspective of the photo. A very good choice. Other covers, e.g. of the U.S. edition, are more abstract.


  6. You captured what I loved about the writing. What a great book. Im working on my review, but you and Cathy did such a bang up job, I don’t know what else I can say!

    Very much agree with Ferrante and Ditlevsen comparisons.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] hosts Cathy and Rebecca wrote beautiful reviews that get at the spirit of the story and the mastery of the writing and […]


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