What's Left of Me Is Yours: A Novel

What's Left of Me Is Yours: A Novel

by Stephanie Scott

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Overview

"Each chapter of this enrapturing novel is elegantly brief and charged with barely contained emotion." —New York Times Book Review

A gripping debut set in modern-day Tokyo and inspired by a true crime, for readers of Everything I Never Told You and The Perfect Nanny, What's Left of Me Is Yours charts a young woman's search for the truth about her mother's life—and her murder.


In Japan, a covert industry has grown up around the wakaresaseya (literally “breaker-upper”), a person hired by one spouse to seduce the other in order to gain the advantage in divorce proceedings. When Satō hires Kaitarō, a wakaresaseya agent, to have an affair with his wife, Rina, both assume it will be an easy case. But Satō has never truly understood Rina or her desires and Kaitarō's job is to do exactly that—until he does it too well. While Rina remains ignorant of the circumstances that brought them together, she and Kaitarō fall in a desperate, singular love, setting in motion a series of violent acts that will forever haunt her daughter’s life.

In an engrossing dual narrative inspired by a true crime, Stephanie Scott exquisitely renders the affair and its intricate repercussions. As Rina’s daughter, Sumiko, fills in the gaps of her mother’s story and her own memory, Scott probes the thorny psychological and moral grounds of the actions we take in the name of love, asking where we draw the line between passion and possession.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525565512
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/22/2021
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

Stephanie Scott is a Singaporean and British writer who was born and raised in South East Asia. She read English Literature at York and Cambridge and holds an M.St in Creative Writing from Oxford. Scott was awarded a BAJS Toshiba Studentship for her anthropological work on her novel What's Left of Me Is Yours and has been made a member of the British Japanese Law Association as a result of her research. What's Left of Me Is Yours was named a Brooklyn Book Festival Debut of the Year and a Guardian / Observer Best Debut of 2020. She is based in Singapore and London.

Read an Excerpt

What’s in a Name?

 

For the Sarashima, the naming of a child is a family matter. For me, it marked a bond with tradition that would govern my life. The names of my maternal relatives have always been chosen at Kiyoji in Meguro. You can just about glimpse the temple from the park at the end of our street. It sits at the base of a hill in the very center of our neighborhood; the green peaks of its roof tiles gleam in the sun and the red pillars of the portico peer out over the surrounding buildings.

As I grew up, my grandfather told me that our family had worshipped there since coming to Tokyo. He said that they remained at prayer during the firebombing of the city and that after the war they had restored the temple. For him, it is a symbol of regeneration.

 

This is why, as soon as Mama recovered from my birth, instead of gathering around the kamidana in the northern corner of the living room, my family went to Kiyoji and my mother carried me in her arms beneath the gates and into the heart of the temple complex.

 

As we climbed the stone steps leading to the main hall, my mother glanced up at the sprawling wooden roof, at its curved eaves stretching out beyond the building—shutting out the sunlight—resulting in the cool, dark shadows within. Inside, we proceeded through the sweet smoke of incense to the altar. All around us the wind blew through in gusts and the air swirled, while outside the bronze bells of the surrounding temples began to toll.

 

I don’t remember this journey, but I can see it quite clearly: me in my cream blanket, my father carrying Tora, the toy white tiger Grandpa had given to me, and my grandfather himself, grave in his three-­piece suit. I have been told this story so many times it has seeped into my memory.

 

One of the monks, pale in his indigo robes, bowed to my grandfather and took from him a pouch containing a selection of names. My mother had prepared these names, first consulting the astrologer and then choosing her favorites counting out the strokes of the characters to ensure that each given name, when combined with our surname, would add up to an optimal number.

 

I can still see her sitting at our dining table in her house slippers and jeans, an oversized T-shirt covering the bump that was me. The blinds are open, the sun slants across the marble floors of our home, while in the kitchen the rice cooker bubbles and the washing up dries on the draining board. My mother lays a sheet of rice paper out in front of her and turns to the inkstone by her side. I can see her dip her brush into the ink, smell the rich scent of earth and pine soot rising into the air, as using the very tip of the bristles she presses down, the horsehair bending to create the first fluid stroke.

 

The monk bowed once more and placed the names in a shallow dish upon the altar. Then, kneeling before them, he selected a delicate wooden fan and, in unison with the breeze that drifted through the open screens, unfurled it, whipping up currents of air. Everyone was silent. The gray smoke of the incense drifted towards the rafters as one by one the names painted by my mother flew towards the ceiling. Eventually, one remained, alone on the teak surface: 

 

寿美子

 

Grandpa knelt and picked it up from the altar and a smile broke out on his face as he read the characters of my given name and their meanings: celebration, beauty, child.

 

“Sumiko,” he said. “Sumiko Sarashima.”

 

My father had been silent throughout the proceedings. In the weeks leading up to my birth, plans for an “adoptive” ceremony had been discussed. Under Japanese law, both people in a marriage must share the same surname, but in certain circumstances, a husband may take his wife’s surname and join her household, so that her name and her line may continue. My father was a second son and his family, the Satōs, readily agreed. However, that day, as the monk took out a fresh sheet of paper and began to inscribe my full name upon it, my father spoke:

 

“Satō,” he said. “She is a Satō, not a Sarashima.”

 


What I Know

 

•I was raised by my grandfather, Yoshi Sarashima.

 

•I lived with him in a white house in Meguro, Tokyo.

 

•In the evenings he would read to me.

 

•He told me every story but my own.

 

My grandfather was a lawyer; he was careful in his speech. Even when we were alone together in his study and I would perched on his lap tracing the creases in his leather armchair, or later, when I sat on a stool by his side, even then, he had a precision with words. I have kept faith with that precision to this day.

 

Grandpa read everything to me—Mishima, Sartre, Dumas, Tolstoy, Bashō, tales of his youth and duck hunting in Shimoda, and one book, The Trial, that became my favorite. The story begins like this: “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K.”

 

When we read that line for the first time, Grandpa explained that the story was a translation. I was twelve years old, stretching out my fingers for a world beyond my own, and I reached out then to the yellowed page, stroking the written characters that spoke of something new. I read the opening aloud, summoning the figure of Josef K.: a lonely man, a man people would tell lies about.

 

As I grew older, I began to argue with Grandpa about The Trial. He told me other people fought over it too, that they fight about it even today—over the translation of one word in particular—verleumdet. To tell a lie. In some versions of the story, this word is translated as “slander.” Slander speaks of courts and accusations, of public reckoning; it has none of the childhood resonance of “telling lies.” And yet, when I read this story for the first time, it was the translator’s use of “telling lies” that fascinated me.

 

Lies, when they are first told, have a shadow quality to them, a gossamer texture that can wrap around a life. They have that feather-­light essence of childhood, and my childhood was built on lies.

 

 

 

The summer before my mother died, we went to the sea. When I look back on that time, those months hold a sense of finality for me, not because that was the last holiday my mother and I would take together, but because it is the site of my last true memory.

 

Every year, as the August heat engulfed Tokyo, my family piled their suitcases onto a local train and headed for the coast. We went to Shimoda. Father remained in the city to work, but Grandpa Sarashima always came with us. Each time, he stopped at the same kiosk in the station to buy frozen clementines for the train, and in the metallic heat of the carriage Mama and I would wait impatiently for the fruit to soften so we could get at the pockets of sorbet within. Finally, when our chins were sticky with juice, Mama would turn to me in our little row of two and ask what I would like to do by the sea, just she and I, alone.

 

Our house on the peninsula was old, its wooden gateposts warped by the winds that peeled off the Pacific. As we climbed towards the rocky promontory at the top of the hill, the gates, dark and encrusted with salt, signaled that my home was near: Washikura—Eagle’s Nest, the house overlooking the bay, between Mount Fuji and the sea.

 

Our country is built around mountains, people are piled up in concrete boxes, cages. To have land is rare, but the house in Shimoda had belonged to my family since before the war, and afterward my grandfather fought to keep it when everything else was lost.

 

Forest sweeps over the hills above the house. I was not allowed up there alone as a child, so when I looked at my mother on the train that summer she knew immediately what I would ask to do. In the afternoons, Mama and I climbed high on the wooded slopes above Washikura. We watched the tea fields as they darkened before autumn. We lay back on the rocky black soil and breathed in the sharp resin of the pines. Some days, we heard the call of a sea eagle as it circled overhead.

Reading Group Guide

1. Before reading the novel, had you heard of the wakaresaseya or “marriage breakup” industry? What do you think are the risks of this industry being allowed to operate? How does this relate to honey trapping in your own culture?

2. From the beginning, photography plays a large role in the novel. How does photography influence Sumiko’s telling of her mother’s story?

3. Sumiko notes early in the novel that the best lies are close to the truth. How does Kai prove this theory as he tells Rina about himself?

4. Sumiko observes that she struggles to imagine her mother as a young person, an individual separate from her motherhood: “When I think of her, it is as my mother, and I cannot picture her any other way.” Have you ever heard a story about a family member and struggled to reconcile this with your own image and experience of him or her?

5. This novel revolves around a murder, but we learn the identity of the alleged murderer relatively early in the story. How does that affect your reading of the events leading up to the crime?

6. Almost every character in the novel struggles to balance multiple roles: parent, lover, child, professional, etc. Who do you think struggles the most?

7. How do physical objects trigger memories and emotions for Sumiko and Yoshi after Rina’s death? Do you have any talismans that remind you of people you’ve lost?

8. How is the Japanese justice system similar to or different from your own? What do you think of Yurie Kagashima’s defense of Kai? Is it a fair defense?

9. What do you think Sumiko means when she says that every member of her family, including her, is guilty of her mother’s death?

10. How do you think knowing the full truth about her mother’s death will affect Sumiko’s life after the action of the novel concludes? What do you think will be the significance of her “choice” at the very end? And is it the right one?

11. Is the law a character in its own right?

12. Are the locations in the novel characters in their own right? How do they affect and shape the narrative?

13. What do you think of the novel’s title? How does it apply to all the characters?

14. What economic and societal constraints are faced by the men and women in the novel? Have any of these issues featured in your own life?

15. How does the novel depict the tension between personal desire and the pressure to conform to social norms?

16. The novel is a mediation of all the different forms of love. What does love mean to you? Who from the book best exemplifies this definition of love?

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