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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