Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

‘Of Dogs and Walls’: A concentrated hit of Yuko Tsushima

by Kris Kosaka

Contributing Writer

Thanks to a new imprint from Penguin that offers a “concentrated hit” of contemporary, international writers, two important and previously untranslated Yuko Tsushima short stories are now available in English.

Of Dogs and Walls, by Yuko Tsushima.
64 pages
PENGUIN MODERN, Fiction.

“The Watery Realm” (1982) is the first of two stories featured in this chapbook, is significant for Japanese literary fans on several levels. Stylistically, it is a hauntingly perceptive exploration of memory and loss, traversing the bond between mothers and their children in a myriad of revealing vignettes that change narrative perspective while vividly illuminating complicated truths.

By using a pervasive metaphor of the Shinto water god, Suijin, Tsushima also excavates her own history as the daughter of Osamu Dazai, the celebrated Japanese writer who committed suicide by drowning in 1948.

Tsushima’s imagined reaction of her mother, Dazai’s widow, to his infamous double suicide with a young lover and fan is both unvarnished and creatively courageous. The short piece also foreshadows Tsushima’s own tragedy when her young son drowned in the bath due to a respiratory attack while Tsushima was in the next room in 1985.

The next story, the titular “Of Dogs and Walls” is equally compelling, exploring the boundaries of space and memory, unpacking the way relationships create and dismantle borders within our homes and deep within our hearts. First published in 2014, it also gives fans of Tsushima a rare look at her later work. Pick up this small chapbook for a double dose of classic Japanese short fiction from this underappreciated writer.