Summary and book reviews of Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

Territory of Light

A Novel

by Yuko Tsushima

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima X
Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 192 pages
    Mar 2020, 192 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Michael Kaler
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About this Book

Book Summary

From one of the most significant contemporary Japanese writers, a haunting, dazzling novel of loss and rebirth

I was puzzled by how I had changed. But I could no longer go back ...

It is spring. A young woman, left by her husband, starts a new life in a Tokyo apartment. Territory of Light follows her over the course of a year, as she struggles to bring up her two-year-old daughter alone. Her new home is filled with light streaming through the windows, so bright she has to squint, but she finds herself plummeting deeper into darkness, becoming unstable, untethered. As the months come and go and the seasons turn, she must confront what she has lost and what she will become.

At once tender and lacerating, luminous and unsettling, Yūko Tsushima’s Territory of Light is a novel of abandonment, desire, and transformation. It was originally published in twelve parts in the Japanese literary monthly Gunzo, between 1978 and 1979, each chapter marking the months in real time. It won the inaugural Noma Literary Prize.


During the night, there had been a sound of water on the other side of the wall. In my sleep I was looking out from the fourth-floor bedroom at nearby buildings bathed in rain, gleaming with neon and streetlamp colours. It was a light, tenuous sound. I couldn't say at what hour of the night it had started. It could well have been there when I went to bed; then again, it could have been an illusion as I was on the brink of waking.

In the morning, when I opened the windows wide, dazzling sunlight burst in, together with the thrum of traffic. The sky was pure blue. The streets were dry. Perfectly dry, even in the shade.

Happy to see another fine day, I set about waking my daughter without wondering where the night's rain could have got to, leaving not the slightest puddle. I had a feeling that it was still raining elsewhere, someplace like that spot I couldn't quite reach behind my back. It was a lingering sensation, close at hand, of water in the distance. I had almost ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Territory of Light is twelve linked stories told from the point of view of one narrator, the newly single mother of a young daughter. What kind of person is the narrator? As a wife, a daughter, a mother? How does she interact with her neighbors and with the parents and teachers at her daughter's day care? How is she brave? How is she weak? What are her fears and desires?
  2. The book begins, "The apartment had windows on all sides," immediately introducing the ideas of territory (apartment) and light (windows). What are the other territories the narrator explores in her first year apart from her husband? What are other types of light? Is there a "territory of dark" in the book? How do descriptions of spaces, interior and exterior, and ...
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BookBrowse Review


Territory of Light thoughtfully considers what it means to raise a child as a single mother with little support. The author's understated prose mitigates the unsettling events of the plot. Tsushima's language is unadorned, her sentences terse, her descriptions clear. Her neat style establishes a contemplative and subdued tone, in spite of the dysfunctional and sometimes sensational storyline...continued

Full Review (623 words).

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(Reviewed by Michael Kaler).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Tsushima writes in prose so bare and vivid that even banal details acquire a visceral vibrancy...What emerges is a story that searchingly inhabits the lives of women without sentimentality or self-pity...[Tsushima] has opened up a territory that feels, in some small way, like a bright room of her own.

The New York Times
Yuko Tsushima is one of the most important Japanese writers of her generation.

The Atlantic
Tsushima’s skilled attention to her narrator’s inner struggles ultimately asks the reader to feel empathy not just for one woman but also for a whole strata of women living with little societal support...this portrait of an imperfect mother who strives to provide a good life for her child feels painfully relevant.

The Spectator (UK)
Fragmented, and rich in dreams and memories, the book is suffused with images of light and water…Geraldine Harcourt's translation subtly conveys the narrator's precarious grip on reality ... Spiky, atmospheric and intimate, filled with moments of strangeness that linger in the mind like an after-image on the retina, Territory of Light is not a comforting read, but it will touch women across frontiers.

The Guardian (UK)
[Territory of Light's] twelve linked tales of the city are fine-grained to the point of mundanity?finding an apartment, discovering a leak, visiting a park?but in Tsushima's hands they achieve a deceptive, luminous clarity…In this short, powerful novel lurk the joy and guilt of single parents everywhere.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A young woman confronts life as a single mother in this graceful, eye-opening novel from Tsushima (1937–2016), one of the most influential feminists in Japanese literature ... Equal parts brutal and tender, Tsushima's portrait of the strains and joys of motherhood is captivating.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Lovely, melancholy ... Tsushima's prose is achingly elegant, well worth lingering over ... Each chapter is as elegant and self-contained as a pearl or a perfectly articulated drop of water.

The Irish Times
Reflects, like a crystal, scattered moments in the life of an unnamed mother ... Bracing, often breathtaking.

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Beyond the Book

The Life and Career of Yūko Tsushima

Author Yūko TsushimaBorn in 1947 in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, Yūko Tsushima was one of the most accomplished Japanese novelists of her generation at the time of her death from lung cancer in 2016. The author remains lesser known outside of Japan, but with the recent translations of Territory of Light and Of Dogs and Walls, there has been a small wave of critical and popular interest in her work in the English-speaking world.

Tsushima's work can be divided into two periods. Her earlier novels and stories experiment with the conventions of "I-fiction," a dominant narrative style of Japanese prose. The genre features a meditative first-person voice, a focus on intimate bonds between characters, and an interest in blurring the line between fact and ...

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