The plot of Kyoko Mori’s first novel, Shizuko’s Daughter, published in New York in 1993, follows a story line very similar to the author’s own life. The female protagonist of the story experiences very difficult and often traumatic experiences as she is growing up, such as the suicidal death of her mother and the harsh treatment she receives from her father and stepmother. The novel explores the challenging reality of a young, pubescent girl who is living in Japan and who rebels against the strict discipline imposed upon her by her father and the Japanese culture. For many reasons, she is often alone throughout the story. One cause of her loneliness is that she does not relate to others who accept their status in life without questioning it.
The idea of the novel began as a short story that Mori wrote during the summer while she was in graduate school. In an article titled “Staying True to the Story,” for The Writer, Mori states that this short story was “the first story in which I was able to write about what I knew but didn’t understand.” She explains that at first she used to write about things that she understood “all too well.” This, however, bored her. “There was no mystery in it for me, let alone for my readers,” she writes. So she began by thinking about her grandmother’s life, about her relationship with her grandmother, about what her mother’s life might have been like, and finally about what her own life would have been like if she’d done things just a little differently. It was from these considerations that Shizuko’s Daughter was born.
Stating her philosophy about writing in “Staying True to the Story,” Mori comments, “each character comes to us already half-formed, in the midst of his or her conflict. Our job as writers is to define and develop that conflict, to follow and ponder the story that unfolds.” This philosophy is very clearly followed in this, her first novel.
Shizuko's Daughter is the story of twelve-year-old Yuki, a young girl struggling to understand her mother's suicide and find the strength it takes for her to overcome the mental anguish she suffered in the years following her mother's death. Yuki was very close to her mother, and she finds it nearly impossible to relate to her father, who is unloving and cold to her, and to her father's new wife who wishes to obliterate all ties to Shizuko. The novel details Yuki's grief and the painful circumstances in which she must come of age. She feels alone in the world, alone in her adolescence and alone in her grief, and she struggles to find the inner strength it takes to make sense of the world and transcend the restrictions of Japanese society. Yuki does maintain a satisfying relationship with her grandparents, but for a long time she is forbidden to see them. She gradually learns to derive comfort from art and from creating for herself a world that adds color and vibrancy to her drab existence.
The novel spans the seven years following Shizuko's suicide, from the time Yuki is twelve to the time she turns eighteen and finally breaks free from her father and stepmother and leaves Kobe to attend art school in Nagasaki. By the end of the novel, things are looking up for Yuki. She has managed to tap her strengths and pursue her own life and talents; she has rebuilt a relationship with her grandparents; and she has developed a close relationship with a young...
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Chapter 1: Housebound
The first chapter of Mori’s Shizuko’s Daughter begins with Shizuko, the protagonist’s mother, dreaming about the small village in which she grew up. The phone awakens her. It is her daughter, Yuki, who tells her mother that her piano teacher will be late for Yuki’s lesson, thus causing Yuki to return home later than anticipated. Shizuko assures Yuki that this will not cause any difficulties. Although the tone of her mother’s voice concerns Yuki, she decides to wait for Miss Uozumi rather than forego the lesson.
Meanwhile, Shizuko begins her process of readying herself for her suicide. She sits down and writes two notes. She asks for her husband’s forgiveness, blaming only herself for the unhappiness that has led her to this act. In her note to Yuki, she writes that Yuki must always remember that she loves her. Then she adds, “When you grow up to be a strong woman, you will know that this was for the best.”
She goes to the kitchen, closes the door, and lays the two notes on the table. After turning on the gas on the stove, she sits down on the floor. She thinks about a comment that she wrote in the note to her husband: “I am almost happy at this last hour,” she had written. Then she had added, “and I wish you to be.” When she thinks over this last sentiment, she changes her mind about it and reaches up to the table, finds the note to her husband, and tears it into very small pieces.
Chapter 2: The Wake
Yuki and her aunt Aya are packing all of Shizuko’s clothes and jewelry. Aya comments, “Nobody would think you were only twelve,” making reference to Yuki’s composed reactions to her mother’s death. Already, Yuki is tired of such remarks. Yuki reflects on how she came home from her lesson the day before to find her mother on the kitchen floor. Looking back, she wonders if her mother was still alive when she first found her. She tries to remember whether her mother was breathing. When Yuki telephoned her father, he told her not to call an ambulance because it would cause too much commotion in the neighborhood.
Yuki goes downstairs to the living room, and when her aunt sees her, she suggests that the dress that Yuki is wearing is of an inappropriate color. Aya takes Yuki upstairs to find a dress in a darker or more muted tone. The only appropriate dress that Aya finds is an old choir uniform. Yuki’s mother had made all of Yuki’s other clothes, using brightly patterned materials. When her aunt leaves the room, Yuki begins to put on the choir outfit. As she does this, she hears voices wailing downstairs. She drops the dress to the floor and goes into her clothes closet with all the vivid colors, sits down on the floor, and shuts the door.
Chapter 3: Tiptoes
One year later, Yuki is sent up to a hotel dressing room where her father’s future bride is preparing herself for her wedding. Yuki’s future stepmother, Hanae, states that there should be no hard feelings between her and Yuki. She says, “You’ll probably hear people say all kinds of bad things about me because I was married to your father so soon after your mother’s tragic death.” She then suggests that Yuki shouldn’t believe any gossip concerning a supposed affair that she and Yuki’s father had been carrying on.
Yuki is very uncomfortable in the room and tells Hanae that the smell of makeup is making her sick. Then she runs out of the room. Yuki finds her Aunt Aya and begs her to repeat the story about how her grandmother had arranged a wedding for Yuki’s mother and how Yuki’s mother had refused to take part in an arranged marriage. Her aunt repeats the details of how Shizuko had moved to Kobe to find a job. That was how she’d met Yuki’s father.
Later, during the wedding ceremony, as a ceramic bowl of sake is passed around the room, Yuki purposefully drops it when it is given to her. The breakage, in Yuki’s mind, mimics the earlier breaking of a rice bowl at her mother’s funeral, an act performed so her mother’s ghost would not haunt the house. Yuki breaks the sake bowl so her father will not forget her mother.
Chapter 4: Irises
Yuki, who had been living with her Aunt Aya until her father’s marriage, experiences another dramatic turn in her life. She moves in with her father and stepmother, but they close themselves off to her. She goes into the kitchen and notices that all her mother’s ceramic pieces are gone, except for one tea service. She remembers her mother taking her to street fairs to watch potters create their wares. The recent move into her father’s house reminds Yuki of another transition, when she and her mother had packed up all the household goods to move to a new house closer to the mountains. She compares the warm feelings that she and her mother...
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