Book Review: Inheritance from Mother by Minae Mizumura

During my bouts of insomnia, I finished Inheritance from Mother (New York Times Review) by Japanese novelist, Minae Mizumura. Having lived in Japan the past five years, helped me enjoy the book at a deeper level than a foreigner coming at it without an understanding of the culture and modern life in Japan. It is several stories in one, all centered around the main character, Mitsuki Katsura. She is a part-time French language professor at a private university in Tokyo. I work for a private university foundation here in the Kansai (west) region of Japan. There are many “part-time” workers, which are basically “hourly-wage” employees, doing the same job as full-time employees, but making much less money and receiving less benefits. There are a lot of people in this situation in a variety of fields. I am not sure how many exactly, but it is a way for businesses to save money and employ more people.

Mitsuki is in her mid-50s and facing a lot. She is taking care of a selfish and demanding dying mother, contemplating divorce from a husband she finds is cheating on her and plotting to divorce her and she is coming to grips with her own old age, both in a financial sense and happiness sense. I agree with the NY Times review in that the book drags on a bit, it took too many chapters for her mother to die. I think because the book was originally released serially in a Tokyo newspaper, it stretched out many parts, but fortunately, each chapter ends with a provocative little “cliffhanger” to keep people reading.

As my uncle and mom always say, “getting old sucks” and the book a good read for diving into the details of caring for sick parent. Mizumura the author, goes into the family background, giving an overview of each character through the generations of family. The book also gives insight to life here, especially the part that people outside Japan don’t know about. I also liked reading about long marriages. I’ve been married for over 20 years and feel lucky that I am still in love with my wife. Many marriages, and as I have been hearing from friends here, many marriages in Japan, older husbands and wives live separate lives and are together for financial reasons only.

The book does end on a hopeful note and it gave me encouragement that people can continue to grow and try new things even into their “old age”. I found the book in our school library and it was translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. I would like to thank the Japan Foundation for funding the publication of the book.

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