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Inheritance from Mother
     

Inheritance from Mother

by Minae Mizumura
 

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Award-winning novelist Minae Mizumura demystifies the notion of the selfless Japanese mother and the adult daughter honor-bound to care for her.
 
Mitsuki Katsura, a Japanese woman in her mid-fifties, is a French-language instructor at a private university in Tokyo. Her husband, whom she met in Paris, is a professor at another private

Overview

Award-winning novelist Minae Mizumura demystifies the notion of the selfless Japanese mother and the adult daughter honor-bound to care for her.
 
Mitsuki Katsura, a Japanese woman in her mid-fifties, is a French-language instructor at a private university in Tokyo. Her husband, whom she met in Paris, is a professor at another private university. He is having an affair with a much younger woman.
 
In addition to her husband’s infidelity, Mitsuki must deal with her ailing eighty-something mother, a demanding, self-absorbed woman who is far from the image of the patient, self-sacrificing Japanese matriarch. Mitsuki finds herself dreaming of the day when her mother will finally pass on. While doing everything she can to ensure her mother’s happiness, she grows weary of the responsibilities of a doting daughter and worries she is sacrificing her chance to find fulfillment in her middle age.
 
Inheritance from Mother not only offers insight into a complex and paradoxical culture, but is also a profound work about mothers and daughters, marriage, old age, and the resilience of women.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
03/13/2017
Mizumura (A True Novel) upends the paradigm of the Japanese mother-daughter relationship in this complex novel. Mitsuki and her older sister, Natsuki, both married with complicated lives, grapple with their mother Noriko’s declining health. Because she’s been a difficult, demanding, selfish mother her whole life, they look forward to her demise. Mitsuki is childless and bears the burden of their mother’s care, which is made more problematic because Noriko, now in her 80s, has always favored Natsuki. Further, Mitsuki has discovered not only a third instance of her husband’s infidelity but also that he is planning to divorce her. She takes a break from her life, staying at a renowned Hakone hotel, where, thanks to a psychic friend, one of the guests believes that someone in their midst will commit suicide. The author demonstrates that what appears calm on the surface can hide unimaginable depths of despair. In this compelling exploration of family history and its impact on relationships and traditions, Mizumura offers insight into how Japanese culture and shows how two daughters can survive the damage wrought by an onerous parent. (May)
From the Publisher
“In this compelling exploration of family history and its impact on relationships and traditions, Mizumura offers insight into how Japanese culture and shows how two daughters can survive the damage wrought by an onerous parent.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“… Suffused with Japanese culture and traditions… Inheritance from Mother is a serial novel, in the old tradition, and Mizumura repeatedly explores that old, lost world too. Yet again, the clash and overlap of cultures figures in the story, cleverly brought up by Mizumura in yet another guise. A fascinating example of the overlap of Japanese and foreign influences, nicely brought to the fore by Mizumura.” COMPLETE REVIEW
 
“…A novel of female endurance and obligation…“She won’t do us all a favor and die” is one of the many shameful but exquisitely truthful thoughts shared by the Katsura daughters…about their mother… in this understated anatomization of intense family feelings. Distinguished Japanese writer Mizumura (The Fall of Language in the Age of English, 2015, etc.) traces this agonizing phase, and all the generational circumstances and feelings prefiguring it… [and] her husband’s latest infidelity and the likelihood of divorce. An “homage to the dying tradition of serial novels”…it's narrated in brief, simple chapters, the tone even and mature as it delves into the unhappiest, most intractable corners of a middle-aged woman’s life and psyche. Questions about love, money, and female choices are posed amid contrasts with earlier generations of women and altered expectations following World War II…the decisions finally made by Mitsuki arrive with a persuasive sense of late-life liberation. A long, minute, subtle consideration of aging, loyalty, and the bonds of love grounded in thE material details of Japanese culture but resonating far beyond.”KIRKUS

“Minae Mizumura’s gorgeous and intimate novel, Inheritance from Mother, paints the conundrum [between generations] bright — both specifically, as a Japanese issue, and universally, as the developed world’s aging population explodes. . . Originally published in 2010 and 2011 as a serial novel in the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most widely read daily newspaper, Inheritance from Mother went on to win the Osaragi Jiro Award. . . One of the most entrancing things about this novel is that it retains the rhythm of a serial even in bound-book form. . .  Mizumura’s writing is urgent yet thorough, and her plot — with its multiple divorces and infidelities, scheming, legends and deaths — just short of overwrought. But her prose is controlled and as dense as poetry. . . The resolution of Inheritance from Mother is natural and satisfying in myriad ways.” WASHINGTON POST

“While caring for her dying mother, Mizumura’s main character, Mitsuki, discovers that her husband secretly plans to leave her for another woman. Wretchedness abounds in this family, but Mizumura slowly complicates this image, illustrating the gray area between selfishness and autonomy. . . By depicting familial dutifulness as superficial and perfunctory, Mizumura rebels against the conventional notion of the lovingly doting daughter and wife, even as she critiques the shallowness and materialism that those obligations can entail. . . As the novel unfolds, layers of financial hardship and disappointed expectations are revealed between each generation that came before the two sisters, forming an intricate family history of delusion, sacrifice, and resentment. But the second half of the novel ushers in compassion. We slowly discover how each individual’s intentions can be passed down through generations and distorted like a decades-long game of ‘Telephone,’ unintentionally causing just as much pain as it was designed to avoid. Mizumura endows her characters with complexity in a stunningly graceful manner. . . The humbling experience of realizing how little we know about the people in our own lives is a rare and valuable gift. Mizumura’s depiction of the relationship between eastern and western ideals is one of the most gripping aspects of the novel. Her characters are alternately seduced by the rituals of Japanese tradition and the romance of Western culture—a reverse fetishization and a contemporary response to ‘Orientalism’ . . . Mizumura inevitably evokes comparisons to Isabelle Allende and Amy Tan for her focus on strong and resilient female characters, multi-generational families in a culture where family comes first, and dynamics of Western invasion into Eastern traditions. But her work is steeped in self-awareness, brazenly critiquing the traditional structures so integral to her history. Mizumura does not avoid diving head first into those things that leave the deepest scars: death, infidelity, and the surrendering of dreams are where she starts.” THE RUMPUS 

Inheritance from Mother is a thoughtful examination of the emotional complexities and contradictions that surround the aging and death of a parent. Through deft, engrossing storytelling, Mizumura addresses the reality of this all too commonplace experience. It’s a timely, substantial novel and a pleasure to read.”
–Euan Monaghan, Structo Magazine
 
“Minae Mizumura’s Inheritance from Mother is a deeply moving exploration of the complex and often fraught relationships between mothers and daughters. Mizumura uses her astute powers of observation to reveal, layer by layer, the turmoil and anger roiling beneath the surface of her characters. A beautifully crafted novel with universal appeal.”
–Cari Luna, author of The Revolution of Every Day
 
“Mizumura’s previous novel in English was transcendently romantic; in Inheritance from Mother, romance manifests mainly as liability and false lure, while the years devolve from poetry to prose. The ingenious plot, however, produces vitality and beauty mercifully different from the conventional love story's, surprising us with gleeful relish and bursts of sheerest gratification.”
–Anna Shapiro, author of Living on Air
 
“In this coming of a certain age novel, the longings and desires of a middle-aged daughter are as bountiful as those of Emma Bovary. If Douglas Sirk and Agatha Christie went on a writing junket to Japan, they might return with this quietly seductive novel, in which Minae Mizumura's heroine uses her mother's inheritance to compose a new life story for herself.”
–Judith Pascoe, Professor of English, University of Iowa
 
“In this loving homage to Japan's century-long tradition of serialized fiction, Mizumura has taken all the classic themes of the grand newspaper novel–sibling rivalries, unhappy marriages, family inheritances–and woven them into a moving tale for our own day.”
–Michael K. Bourdaghs, Professor of Modern Japanese Literature, University of Chicago

“This is a harrowing novel that truly hits home. Caregiving, marital infidelity, economic uncertainty, the threat of old age and enfeeblement: all the reasons why ‘it’s tough being a woman’ are here on full display. But there is nothing cut-and-dried about the story, which offers plenty of common ground for a positive evaluation of life, with sympathetic episodes that affirm the dignity of women. The novel can be read as the saga of three generations of women, and as a model case that gives food for thought concerning caregiving, divorce, and women’s self-reliance. . . This book’s answer to the ultimate question of which to choose, love or money, is at once utterly contemporary and profound.” —ASAHI SHIMBUN

“The sentence ‘Today my mother died’ resonates with the alienation of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, and passages on women’s self-reliance offer echoes of Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘A Room of One’s Own.’ In the second half, towards the end as the protagonist Mitsuki confronts her husband’s betrayal and her own impending old age, the scene shifts to a lakeside hotel and the story takes on some of the elements of an Agatha Christie novel. Who will the ‘killer’ prove to be? The longing for soaring love and the graphic trials of caregiving and married life. The beauty of ideals a­­nd the ugliness of reality. This exquisite novel, though accepting of the world’s heavy shackles, is touched throughout by a soft, fresh breeze.”MAINICHI SHIMBUN

“Through the lives of various women, the novel consistently portrays two issues: money and love. The intensity and brilliance of the execution fills me with awe.” MAINICHI SHIMBUN

“The contents are fascinating, the work gripping. Human longings and hatreds; beauty and ugliness; grace and vulgarity; money problems, family lineage, and a marriage gone sour; sickness and old age—the author’s adeptness in dealing fully with a plethora of such themes is simply scary.” YOMIURI SHIMBUN

“The features of each character rise in the mind’s eye, due to descriptions of great expressiveness and clarity that fully showcase the author’s polished sensibility and superb command of language. The novel is over 500 pages long, but reads so quickly that one is impatient to turn every page.” —YOMIURI SHIMBUN

“Inheritance from Mother is the author’s first newspaper novel. She instructed herself to ‘keep it entertaining by all means.’ There is no shortage of techniques to draw the reader’s interest, including the insertion of scenes in the style of an Agatha Christie mystery.” —SA­­NKEI SHIMBUN

“Minae Mizumura’s Inheritance from Mother: A Newspaper Novel is the kind of masterpiece destined to emerge in today’s aging society. Already exhausted from caring for her aged mother, the protagonist is beset by a new trial: her husband’s infidelity. Tragedies of modern society are never treated as social issues but are presented throughout in the language of the individual, which is the language of literature. This page-turner is both thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying.” —SHUKAN SHINCHO

 “This book depicts the hilarity, pain, and absurdity of life in crystal-clear prose. Perhaps most moving of all are the agonizing life-and-death struggles of the people whom Mitsuki encounters at the hotel in Hakone where she travels alone after her mother’s death. There for the first time she­ contemplates divorce head-on: ‘After giving the matter a great deal of thought, she decided that even if she did not go through with the divorce, facing squarely the fact that her marriage had been a failure was the least she could do to live out her life with dignity.’” —SHUKAN GENDAI

 “The author’s voice is mature and captivating, conveying sly humor, a sense of the ridiculous, and a quiet resignation that lend the story dignity and grace. On finishing the novel, the reader has a renewed appreciation of just how engrossing a novel can be.”SHUKAN BUNSHUN

 “In this superb novel the author, who is also a student of early modern Japanese literature, has assimilated novelistic conventions nurtured since the Meiji period, creating a seamless literary whole.” —BUNGEI SHUNJU

 “The author’s rich vocabulary and power of expression are overwhelming, her character portraits so spot-on that the characters are easy to visualize. Other literary works pop up here and there, an irresistible touch. The reason for the subtitle ‘A newspaper novel’ becomes clear in the second half. This is an eminently satisfying read, skillfully interweaving the warp of the story with the woof of description.” —HON NO ZASSHI  

Kirkus Reviews
2017-02-21
In a novel of female endurance and obligation, Mitsuki, the "semi-neglected daughter" of the Katsura family, must not only bear the lion's share of caring for her elderly parents, but must also steel herself for the failure of her marriage."She won't do us all a favor and die" is one of the many shameful but exquisitely truthful thoughts shared by the Katsura daughters, Mitsuki and Natsuki, about their mother, Noriko, in this understated anatomization of intense family feelings. Noriko, who not only favored Natsuki, but also treated the girls' father with repellent callousness when his health began to fail, has grown into a self-indulgent, demanding old woman who hangs onto existence, dominating Mitsuki's life in particular. Distinguished Japanese writer Mizumura (The Fall of Language in the Age of English, 2015, etc.) traces this agonizing phase, and all the generational circumstances and feelings prefiguring it, in the novel's first half before moving on to a more contemplative second half set in a country hotel where Mitsuki has taken refuge both to recuperate from her mother's eventual death and also, now, to confront her other preoccupation—her husband's latest infidelity and the likelihood of divorce. An "homage to the dying tradition of serial novels" according to a note at the beginning of the book, it's narrated in brief, simple chapters, the tone even and mature as it delves into the unhappiest, most intractable corners of a middle-aged woman's life and psyche. Questions about love, money, and female choices are posed amid contrasts with earlier generations of women and altered expectations following World War II. The novel has an unblinking focus which accumulates to near-claustrophobic proportions, yet the decisions finally made by Mitsuki arrive with a persuasive sense of late-life liberation. A long, minute, subtle consideration of aging, loyalty, and the bonds of love grounded in the material details of Japanese culture but resonating far beyond.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590517826
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
05/02/2017
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
149,354
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Inheritance from Mother

a novel


By Minae Mizumura, Juliet Winters Carpenter

Other Press LLC

Copyright © 2012 Minae Mizumura
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59051-782-6



CHAPTER 1

THE LONG TELEPHONE CALL IN LIEU OF A WAKE


"So how much do we get back from Golden?"

Before answering, Mitsuki, on the phone with her sister Natsuki, glanced once again at the numbers. On this late-fall night the window by the desk was closed, but instinctively she lowered her voice in reply. "Around seventeen million yen."

"What?" said Natsuki. "You mean they keep a whole ten million even though she was there such a short time?"

"Looks like it."

"Golden" was the private, exclusive nursing home where their mother had been living. Its full name was Golden Years, but everyone always called it Golden. The home had charged an initial deposit of 27 million yen, far more than their mother's dwindling savings would have covered. Funds for the deposit and the high monthly fees had come from selling the land in Chitose Funabashi, the Tokyo suburb where the family home had been. Their mother had actually lived in Golden just four and a half months before coming down with pneumonia. They had kept her room throughout her three-and-a-half-month stay in the hospital, making a total of eight months.

Once she saw that her mother's death was imminent, Mitsuki had taken to opening Golden's pamphlet and studying the page with the refund scale. Residents forfeited one-third of the deposit on moving in and the rest on a monthly basis over a seven-year period. She checked her calculations repeatedly, punching in the numbers on a desktop calculator until she was sure.

"I spent all that money, thinking she'd live another ten years," said Mitsuki. "What an idiot."

Pleated French lace curtains embroidered with a delicate floral design, two and a half times the width of the window: that had been one folly. Their family was particular about beautiful things. Whatever mixed feelings about their mother Mitsuki and her sister may have had, they took pride in this inclination that was theirs by birth and upbringing. Mitsuki had poured herself with zeal into decorating her mother's final home, a tiny room of just twenty square meters, and her sister had supported her in her every whim. Still, looking back, Mitsuki thought her zeal had bordered on the pathological.

Natsuki comforted her. "Yes, but back then we were positive she'd be there a long time."

Based on the average lifespan of women in Japan, who enjoy greater longevity than women anywhere else in the world, their mother in her mid-eighties could have expected to live another eight years. Plus she came from a line of women who lived long, even for Japan.

"True."

"Besides, compared with how much she's leaving us, you didn't spend all that much."

People whose parents are indigent must provide for them in old age out of their own pocket. Their mother had had enough laid by to provide for herself and also leave them each an inheritance which, although surely below the amount that would require them to pay inheritance tax, would still be a tidy sum.

In addition to the pamphlet showing the refund scale, on the desk in front of Mitsuki was a heap of items from the filing cabinet in a jumble of colors and shapes: savings passbooks, new and worn, decorated with stripes or gradations of different hues; bank seals of black lacquer or ivory, some round, some oval; documents from securities companies; a memo pad covered with scribbled figures; and various notes, sorted by denomination. On top of them all was an estimate from the funeral home.

"I wonder how much she left us altogether," Natsuki said, as if to herself.

Natsuki's relationship with their mother had been strained. At one point their mother had washed her hands of her elder daughter, often taking obvious pleasure in rubbing it in, and ingratiated herself instead with Mitsuki, the previously neglected younger daughter, entrusting her with everything, including her finances. Natsuki was never good at managing money anyway and, while resenting their mother, had used this treatment as an excuse to sit back and do nothing. As a result, she had little grasp of the flow of their mother's funds.

"Altogether, including the money due back from Golden, I figure it should come to about thirty-five million apiece."

For Natsuki, who had married into wealth, this probably wasn't a lot of money. As Mitsuki was about to mention this, her sister sighed and said with feeling, "That's a lot of money."

To keep her husband and daughter from overhearing the conversation, Natsuki was undoubtedly calling from the soundproof piano room where she liked to retreat with her two cats.


Earlier that evening, after leaving the body at the mortuary, Mitsuki, her sister, brother-in-law, and niece had all gone out for dinner at a nearby chain restaurant specializing in shabu-shabu hotpot; they had parted at around eleven. Even after returning home, Mitsuki had remained exhilarated, knowing that her mother was finally dead — and Natsuki must have felt the same way, for before going to bed she had called, wanting to talk to the one person she knew would fully share her excitement and listen to her with infinite understanding. The sisters each had had a very different relationship with their mother, so they felt liberated in different ways, but their excitement was identical — keen and palpable.

Mitsuki's professor husband was on sabbatical and had been in Vietnam since the end of March, ostensibly to do research. Natsuki could therefore call late at night with the assurance that she would disturb no one. The phone had rung just as Mitsuki was in the midst of recalculating how much their mother had left them.

"It's hard to believe I've suddenly got so much money," Natsuki said. "For the Shimazakis that might not be much, but for me it is."

The Shimazakis were Natsuki's in-laws; her husband, a cellist, was their second son. Yet even after decades of marriage, even after her falling-out with their mother, Natsuki remained at heart a Katsura. As did Mitsuki, for that matter. But a woman marrying into wealth was somehow under greater social obligation to become steeped in the ways of her new family. Despite this pressure, Natsuki had remained stubbornly herself.

"What'll you two use the money for?" she asked.

Natsuki uttered the words "you two" with complete innocence. She meant Mitsuki and her husband, Tetsuo, but the words gave Mitsuki momentary pause. In her reply, she ignored the "two" of "you two" and spoke only about herself.

"Not sure. First off, I want to get my strength back. Go for all the acupuncture and massages I want, soak in a hot spring. If I can, I'd like to quit teaching, too."

"That sounds good. Tetsuo will be happy too, won't he? Now he can afford the high-rise condo in the city center he's always wanted."

Tetsuo had never even been told her mother was in the hospital, but this her sister did not know. Instead of responding, she asked a question of her own. "What about you, what'll you use the money for?"

Natsuki and her husband, Yuji, owned a spacious apartment of more than 150 square meters in an exclusive old residential area in central Tokyo. Not only were they not saddled with a mortgage, his parents had built them a villa by the family summerhouse on the coast, next to one for his sister and her husband.

"I'm not sure either. I've always felt ... small, you know? I've never earned more than a pittance. It's such a relief to think that finally I'll have some money of my own. I could trade my Yamaha in for a Steinway. Hey, I could even afford a divorce!" After this bit of flippancy, she went on seriously, "You know what the best part is? Getting free of her while I'm still in my fifties. All those years, I struggled to put the idea out of my mind, tried not to think of anything so lucky."

"I know."

"Watching her, all I could think was that I didn't want to live to be so old. Life lost its appeal in a way."

"I know what you mean."

Burdened by their mother's constant needs and wants, Mitsuki had felt the joy of life wither and fade. And then one summer night just when her menstrual cycle was becoming irregular, she had sat for hours with her bare back exposed to air-conditioning. Before she knew it she'd developed a syndrome known colloquially as "air-conditioningitis." Her nervous system was affected, and she developed what the doctor called "autonomic dysfunction," a kind of neuropathy that dragged on and on.

To top it all off, their mother had fallen and fractured her shoulder and hip just before New Year's, a catastrophe that aggravated the sisters' own ailments. Natsuki, though strong since childhood, now had a chronic and worsening eye condition, and Mitsuki, weak since childhood, suffered increasingly from her nerves. Then too, although her sister didn't know it, she had her husband to fret about.


As they continued to chat, Mitsuki thought of their mother's body lying in the mortuary — in a freezer, to be precise — turning steadily to ice from the outside in. Eventually the internal organs would freeze, every last one. Even the eyes, which had stayed wide open, staring, until a nurse had gently closed them, would freeze solid. What of her white hair, full and wiry to the last? What would become of it?

Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Today, mother died. The opening line of the first novel she had ever read in French, long ago.

By rights, this should have been the night of the wake. A night when, according to Buddhist tradition or still more ancient custom in Japan, newly bereaved family members would stay up all night, keeping candles lit and incense burning as they bade the departed farewell. Now that so many people died in the hospital, how many families took the body home to hold a proper wake anymore? Customs were fluid, changing year by year. What others might do she had no idea, nor did she — or her sister, she felt sure — much care. She felt no guilt about leaving their mother's body unattended in the mortuary freezer while chatting on the phone about how to spend their inheritance. She even felt no guilt about not feeling guilty. And she had no intention of revisiting the funeral home till two days later, when the body would be put into its coffin.

"Anyway, tomorrow we've got to get some rest."

Mitsuki hung up the telephone and switched off her computer. She wasn't going to tell Tetsuo that her mother was gone. The time difference between Japan and Vietnam was two hours. Right now, he might be setting out nightcaps and snacks for two. He felt at ease in the kitchen, and she had always liked watching him putter there. Now he was showing that homebody side of himself to some young woman. He didn't deserve to be told about her mother's death.

She prepared for bed as usual and slid under the covers. Light from the lamp on her nightstand fell on a French novel, the one she had started reading at her mother's bedside during those last few days, while waiting for her to die. She switched the light off.

Even in the dark, tears did not come. Her excitement was mingled only with fatigue from having sat all day with her dying mother. It occurred to her that long ago when her grandmother died — back when Mitsuki was a child — her mother, too, had not wept.

Only decades later did her mother show a trace of emotion. One afternoon as they walked along the beach at Atami, the setting for a famous scene in an old serial novel of tragic love, her mother had laughed derisively. Referring to the novel's hero and heroine, she'd said, "There never was any Kan'ichi in your grandmother's life. How silly ... her thinking she was O-Miya!" Her voice quavered as she fought back tears, perhaps at a sudden memory.

Mitsuki had walked on in silence, fearing her mother might turn maudlin.

Her mother had struggled to keep pace, jabbing her cane into the sand.

CHAPTER 2

THE FLOWER-EMBROIDERED POCKET TISSUE CASE


Like many educated women, Mitsuki believed she had no call to consider herself unfortunate. Whether you looked back through history or around the globe today, human misery was so extreme and so widespread that the Buddhist term "a world of suffering" seemed truly apt. The world was awash in wretchedness. For her to think herself unfortunate was a sin.

Of course, a golden-haired, blue-eyed woman raised by nannies in the Sixteenth Arrondissement of Paris, say, or on Manhattan's Upper East Side, might well think it a great misfortune — even if she couldn't say so aloud — just to have been born in the rural wilds of France or America, let alone in the Far East. But Mitsuki had always thought that if she had to be born in the Far East in the latter half of the twentieth century, at least she was fortunate to have landed in Japan. She had been brought up in fairly privileged circumstances, and had even spent a year studying in Paris, thanks to her mother. Her husband was a college professor, and she herself taught college part time. Even now, her circumstances were fairly privileged. She had no call to consider herself unfortunate.

And yet one day she realized that she could no longer consider herself happy either. As the years piled on she had come to feel a sense of wrongness about her life, a sense that it wasn't supposed to turn out this way. Eventually that sense of wrongness had entangled her in heavy, sticky filaments that dulled her skin as well as her heart. Her step lost its bounce, her smiles grew infrequent, the luster faded from her eyes. She found it hard to believe that she had ever been a happy little girl who would burst into song at the drop of a hat and twirl on her toes.

Just when the change began, she wasn't sure. It wasn't the time she first discovered her husband's infidelity (looking back, she realized there had been ominous signs even midway through their honeymoon). No, she became aware of the sticky meshes of woe only after her father was consigned to an extended-care hospital far away. Or no, it was still earlier, when That Man first entered her mother's life and cobwebs began to show on the ceilings of their house in Chitose Funabashi, where her father was left to sit alone, hollow-eyed.

In these last few years, the heavy, sticky filaments had wrapped around Mitsuki with ever-increasing momentum — especially after she came down with that strange syndrome.

One evening, after sitting directly exposed to air-conditioning for hours, by the time she reached home she'd been ready to drop. After a night of restless sleep, she found that far from having recovered, she shivered with cold at the mere touch of her bedsheets. Her temperature usually registered on the high side, but that morning it was quite low.

She went to the hospital, where a young doctor in his thirties unsympathetically informed her, a middle-aged woman struggling to endure the hospital's air-conditioning, "People don't die even with a temperature lower than yours." He didn't write her a prescription.

After coming home, she did some checking online and learned that the Western medical establishment dismissed sensitivity to the cold as "poor circulation." The word and indeed the concept of air-conditioning it is seemed not to exist in the West. Yet on the Japanese Web, any number of women reported suffering from exposure to air-conditioning: their hands, feet, and lower abdomen turned to ice; their shoulders and back stiffened; they felt chronically fatigued. By far the most complaints were from women her age. Whether the syndrome was uniquely prevalent among Asians she didn't know, but she began to take an herbal remedy prescribed by a woman specialist in traditional Chinese medicine, and she also started acupuncture treatments. She discovered that if she saw a specialist in psychosomatic medicine, she could get prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and sleeping aids.

As a child, whenever Mitsuki got a checkup at school the doctor would say she had a weak constitution. She had frequently caught colds and run a high fever, and as an adult she tired easily; still, she had always retained her youthfulness, and with it a measure of strength. Now there was never a day when she felt well. On top of that, her aging mother, whose treatment of her late father she found impossible to forgive, was increasingly a burden. Meanwhile, she went on dealing with her wayward husband as if nothing were wrong, trying not to think of her marriage, even as emptiness spread inside her.

Her small misfortunes had resonated together like notes in a symphony, quickening and surging in a crescendo that reached a climax late last year. Or, to use the jo-ha-kyu terminology of the Noh master Zeami (she was, after all, Japanese), her troubles had built up to the frenetic kyu pitch.

From the end of the year until her mother's death eleven months later, life had been something of a nightmare.

Wretched: as the nightmare progressed, Mitsuki had begun to think of herself this way. She remembered reading a fairy tale as a child about a princess who never laughed. A semi-invalid middle-aged woman who rarely laughed anymore should be allowed to consider herself wretched.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Inheritance from Mother by Minae Mizumura, Juliet Winters Carpenter. Copyright © 2012 Minae Mizumura. Excerpted by permission of Other Press LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Minae Mizumura is one of the most important writers in Japan today. Born in Tokyo, she moved with her family to Long Island, New York, when she was twelve. She studied French literature at Yale College and Yale Graduate School. Her other novels include the Yomiuri Prize–winning A True Novel, Zoku meian (Light and Dark Continued), a sequel to the unfinished classic Light and Dark by Natsume Soseki, and Shishosetsu from left to right (An I-Novel from Left to Right), an autobiographical work. Her most recent book in English, The Fall of Language in the Age of English, was published in 2015 by Columbia University Press. She lives in Tokyo.

Juliet Winters Carpenter studied Japanese language and literature at the University of Michigan and the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Tokyo. Carpenter’s translation of Kobo Abe’s novel Secret Rendezvous won the 1980 Japan–United States Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature, and her translation of Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel won the same prize for 2014–2015, making her the only person to have won this prestigious award twice.

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