Due to the temperature being 109° F, I have been indoors this past week more than I normally would be. I am outdoors a lot, but even I know better than to make myself so miserable in this heat. This has given me opportunity to read a lot more during the daytime than usual and I have a tbr mountain that makes me feel ashamed. Today I was able to read the tiny book in the Penguin Modern series Of Dogs and Walls, which contains two stories by Yuko Tsushima. The little book is only 65 pages and is the 43rd in the set of 50 similar books by Penguin. It was published in 2018, the whole set was finished being released by 2019, I think, and could be purchased in a box set. I am not exactly sure what the editors were going with for this particular set – blurbs on the Penguin site speak of “pioneering” modern writers, etc.
Yuko Tsushima is the penname of Satoko Tsushima (1947 – 2016). She is the second daugher of the famous author Osamu Dazai (1909 – 1948). Dazai and his extra-marital interest committed drowning suicide in the Tamagawa Aqueduct.
The first story in this book, The Watery Realm, was originally published in 1982. It very much so is an exploration and coming-to-terms with her father’s death. The wildly creepy and unnerving fact that most readers might not be aware of is that in 1985, Tsushima’s young son drowned in a bathtub accidentally. This is the last paragraph of The Watery Realm:
Ah, that reminds me. I have to tell my five-year-old about the Dragon Palace – to tell him that, somewhere in the deep, the original of that underwater castle he’s so proud of surely exists. There, as colorful fish tickle the tips of their noses, the folk we long to see again sleep the sleep in which a hundred days are a hundred years. – pg.30
I do not know exactly what to say about this paragraph and the future unhappy drowning. At best I can describe my face as having a suspicious and incredulous look on it, maybe with shades of “yikes!” I really love this paragraph at the end of the story, though. I like the off-hand manner in which the narrator is thinking of the deep [pun intended] topic.
Overall, I liked this first piece better of the two. But, since I have a strong connection to water, that makes sense. In both stories the author writes fluidly [heh!] and the edges blend. What edges? The clearly defined borders of characters, of time, of space. In some points it feels like a stream of consciousness. And that hazy fuzziness really works for this particular story in which family members seem sickeningly close and yet completely estranged.
I loved the last paragraph of the first story and I loved the usage of the umbrella. This is subtle and mysterious and skillful writing.
If it’s still raining when she starts for home again, she will take her umbrella. Sometimes it will have stopped and she’ll leave the umbrella with her daughter. That umbrella disturbs and frightens her daughter, while she herself is disturbed and frightened at having forgotten it. When it’s nothing, really. When it really doesn’t mean a thing. – pg. 12
I really also like this paragraph. Its in the middle of the story and its yet another voice, besides the mother or the daughter and it just resonated with me because things can be so aggravating and disturbing and yet meaningless.
The second piece in this small text is the title entry, Of Dogs and Walls. It was one of Tsushima’s later works, published in 2014 in the magazine Shincho. There are a lot of similarities between both of the stories, so I can definitely see how a Penguin Editor might have known they go together, though they were written so many decades apart. The main one being the relationship and viewpoints of the female characters; mothers and daughters to be specific. The mothers in both stories seem incomprehensible, but also utterly transparent. These are hardened women, not ones you would cross. They are left behind and “on their own.” They are also maybe slightly mad because of this.
Both stories are of a close radius. But I do not think I was able to get the resounding significance of the dog and the wall like I was able to internalize and comprehend the water and the umbrella.
I think that Penguin liked selecting these stories – not solely because they are quite interesting works, but also because a female Japanese author was an excellent “diverse” pick for their collection. They are not wrong. However, I think a lot of readers will zero in on the fact that Tsushima is largely writing about marginalized or forgotten women and then slap a “feminist” label on her and her works. I am absolutely no expert in these matters, but I think to do so would be to really build a barrier (a wall?) around Tsushima and also her characters. I would not want her stories to drown in the ogreish designs of insensitive readership.
One question I am very curious about is how deeply, frequently, and extensively Tsushima read or studied her father’s works. Did she have nothing much to do with them? Or were they often pawed through and wrestled with? Or maybe she was utterly indifferent to them? I think she has one daughter and that is who we would have to ask. Yes, it would probably be apropos to have to ask Tsushima’s daughter about Tsushima’s relationship with her father’s literary works.
Recommend for quite advanced readers and for those who enjoy dream-like streams of slice-of-life. I would like to give the first story 4 stars and the second 2 stars; so here we end at 3 stars.