3. The heroine’s plight is heartrending
You don’t need to like the characters in order to appreciate a book, but it’s hard not to feel a strong empathy for our narrator. Her emotions are intensely felt, and at times she seems to be growing detached from reality. She dreams of helping a sick man by dabbing a towel on his back, and this simple gesture “gave me a dizzying sense of plummeting deeper and deeper. The sensation was a fierce joy.” She adjusts her own reality to match what others think. “Women are victims of how they were taught to behave,” Tsushima once said.
And Tsushima’s own life was a strong inspiration for her fiction (“I only write things familiar to me”), which aids its verisimilitude. She experienced the abandonment she describes in Territory of Light (and her other work) when her father, the novelist Osamu Dazai, took his own life when she was one year old.
4. It’s painfully plausible about parenthood
There is no sugar-coating in Territory of Light, and in having sole responsibility for her daughter, the narrator experiences the frustrations of being a parent in full. She complains when her child cries at night and wonders why adults can’t have tantrums too. When she leaves her off at the daycare centre, “the moment when she separated herself from me was a palpable relief.” She goes out at night to reclaim her old life, recklessly leaving her child alone. Like all parents, she wants her daughter to be happy, if partly for selfish reasons. “Her daily intake of joy ought to leave her so knocked out that she would sleep soundly at night.”
But this is not a depressing book. It sings with truth, and is full of headstrong life. Elsewhere, Tsushima wrote of her “firm belief that misfortune is not always bad. Happiness can spoil people. On the contrary, people can become rich by unhappiness. Unhappy people are given a chance to discover true human nature.” Territory of Light is packed with this truth.
5. It may be the best value book you’ve read
Because of the richness, the complexity, the spacious density - because of everything I’ve described above and everything I haven’t - Territory of Light is a book whose brisk length deceives. I have read it three times now and feel as though I am still only part-way through. Pick it up, and it will become a brittle but welcoming friend for life.
Pick up a copy of Territory of Light and join in the Penguin Classics book club.