Publication Date: May 02, 2017
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Award-winning novelist Minae Mizumura demystifies the notion of the selfless Japanese mother and the adult daughter who’s 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, where he ardently wooed her, is a professor at a different 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 nothing like the idealized image of the patient, self-sacrificing Japanese matriarch. Mitsuki finds herself guiltily dreaming of the day when her mother will finally pass on. Though doing everything she can to ensure her mother’s happiness, she grows weary of the responsibility of being a doting daughter and worries she is sacrificing her chance to find fulfillment in her middle age.
The 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 resilient spirit of women.
Excerpt from Inheritance from Mother
“So how much do we get back from Golden?”
Mitsuki was on the telephone with her older sister, Natsuki, who asked the question. “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.”
On this late-fall night the window by the desk was closed, but instinctively Mitsuki lowered her voice in reply. “Around seventeen million yen, I believe.”
“What? You mean they keep a whole ten million yen even though she was there such a short time?”
“Yes, it looks that way.”
Golden charged an initial deposit of twenty-seven million yen, far more than their mother’s dwindling savings would cover. They had managed to scrape up money for the deposit and the anticipated high monthly fees by selling the 2,400 square feet of land in Chitose Funabashi, Tokyo, where the family home had been.
Their mother had actually lived in Golden just four and a half months, but her room had been kept on the books throughout her three-and-a-half-month stay in the hospital with pneumonia, making a total of eight months.
Once she saw that her mother was certain to die, Mitsuki had taken to opening the nursing home pamphlet and studying the page with the refund scale.
“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
“A minute, subtle consideration of aging, loyalty, and the bonds of love grounded in the material details of Japanese culture but resonating far beyond.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Steeped in literature, Inheritance from Mother is also a work of literature—and a fascinating example of the overlap of Japanese and foreign influences, nicely brought to the fore by Mizumura.” —Complete Review
“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
“Minae Mizumura’s The Inheritance from Mother is the kind of masterpiece destined to emerge in today’s aging society…This page-turner is both thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying.” —Shukan Shincho
“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 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
1. What is the “inheritance” from the title of the novel? Who gives it and who receives it? Is there more than one inheritance in the novel?
2. On page 4 the narrator says, “Whatever mixed feelings about their mother Mitsuki and her sister may have had…” What are Mitsuki and Natsuki’s feelings about their mother? How does their mother feel about them? How does Noriko feel about her own mother, Mitsuki’s grandmother?
3. Inheritance from Mother was originally serialized in Japan’s largest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, and a famous serialized novel, The Golden Demon, plays a significant role in the narrative. How do you think serialization shaped the form of the novel, and subsequently your reading of it? Do you think the novel would have been written differently had it not been serialized? Have you read any other novels that have been serialized?
4. On page 100 the narrator says, “But reality was not that obliging.” In the novel, what lies in the realm of dreams, aspirations, and desires of the Katsura women, and what becomes a reality?
5. Describe Mitsuki’s mother. Which of her characteristics repulse her daughters so? Do Mitsuki or Natsuki soften toward their mother over the course of the novel?
6. Toward the end of the novel Mitsuki and Natsuki have a “Makioka Sisters” day, named after the Japanese classic by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Describe Mitsuki and Natsuki’s relationship. How has it changed over the course of their lives? In what ways was it shaped by their mother? Could Inheritance from Mother be described as a story about sisterhood?
7. Other than The Makioka Sisters and The Golden Demon, what novels feature in Inheritance from Mother? Why do you think Mizumura includes so many other works of literature in her own novel?
8. How do the various laws listed in the novel illustrate an ever changing and modern Japan? (See pp 249–250: “The law had been revised several years ago…she must have graduated after the Gender Equality in Employment Act was passed.”) What is the impression you get of Mitsuki’s everyday, quotidian life from these laws?
9. How is “the West” viewed by the Katsura family? (See p 355: “Over the course of a century…newspapers shaped a new language and a new breed of Japanese people.”; p 358: “She was proud of the way her family adopted a Western lifestyle ahead of everyone else.”) Do you think their view of and relationship to “the West” is a common Japanese view of it?
10. What view of caring for aging and ill parents does Inheritance from Mother portray? Does this view surprise you? Why or why not?