Twelve Chapters on Her

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Twelve Chapters on Her
Author: Kyōko Nakajima
Specifications: ISBN  978-4120048449
256 pages
13.8 x 19.7 cm / 5.5 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
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A woman who has recently passed the half-century mark reflects on her life and relationships in the course of several unexpected events involving her and her 24-year-old son. The story that spans from June until the end of March is ingeniously structured to refer to and incorporate elements of Sei Itō’s best-selling collection of essays from 1954 entitled Josei ni kansuru jūnishō (Twelve Chapters on Women).

The point-of-view character is Seiko Udō, who works three days a week at a tax accountant’s office near her home in a Tokyo suburb. Her husband Mamoru runs a small editorial production company in the city, and their marriage of 25 years since meeting as college classmates has been happy. They became empty-nesters when their only son Tsutomu moved away to pursue a graduate degree in philosophy at a university in western Japan.

One day, Mamoru’s company is commissioned to produce a PR magazine, and the founder of the client firm asks that it include an essay on women in order to appeal to female readers. Intending to write the piece himself, Mamoru pulls Twelve Chapters on Women from his shelf, and also decides to purchase the electronic edition. Soon husband and wife are both reading the book and discussing how the position of women has changed between 60-odd years ago and today as they make their way through the essays. At the same time, Seiko finds herself using the book as a practical reference for how to deal with certain events that take place in her life.

The narrative is shaped by three main story arcs, each involving a love interest. The first begins in July, when Seiko receives a letter from Yuzuru Kuze. Yuzuru explains that his father Yūta died of pneumonia at the end of the year, and when he was sorting through his effects, he discovered that Yūta had been about to send Seiko some photos of her that Yūta’s father, a professional cameraman, took many years before. Seiko had lost her own father to illness when she was six, and had subsequently been raised singlehandedly by her mother, who made a living as an editor. Her mother and Yūta’s father were colleagues at the time, and Yūta was living with his father following his parents’ divorce. One summer when his father went on an extended assignment in the United States, Yūta had stayed with Seiko and her mother. He was 15 and Seiko was 10 that year, and in the course of living together like big brother and little sister, she became quite smitten with him. He was her first love. When Seiko meets with the 31-year-old Yuzuru to receive the photos, she discovers that he is the spitting image of his father, and even amid the shock of learning about Yūta’s untimely death, she feels a flutter in her heart.

Yūta’s first wife was an American woman, and Yuzuru is their son. Yūta subsequently wed three more times and produced three more sons, and when Seiko meets them, she finds that each one of them bears an uncanny resemblance to his father. As she goes on to exchange a number of letters with Yuzuru, Seiko grows convinced that he has feelings for her, but it ultimately becomes clear that Seiko has read more into his words and demeanor than he intends.

The situation is the opposite in Seiko’s relationship with an offbeat fellow named Katase, whom she meets at the offices of a volunteer organization where she helps with accounting tasks. The 59-year-old Katase shows up from time to time to fix PCs or eyeglasses, try out folk remedies, and capably take on a variety of other tasks as a jack-of-all-trades for a while—and then disappears again. When he appears this time he is staying with the director of the organization, but he has spent time entirely homeless, and apparently practices a lifestyle unencumbered by money. As they become better acquainted Seiko discovers that the two of them grew up practically next door to each other in neighboring suburbs of Tokyo. Seiko sees that he is growing fond of her, but she pretends not to notice. Before long he goes away.

The third story arc centers on Tsutomu, her son. Seiko doubts he has ever had a single girlfriend even at the age of 24, and has been secretly fretting about it, but then to her surprise he brings a girl named Chikako home with him for New Year’s and says they’ve been living together since July. She is three years older and a fellow graduate student in philosophy. At the end of January, Chikako comes to Tokyo again to talk with Seiko. She’s learned that she is pregnant, and it has put her in a panic because she has no confidence in her ability to raise a child. Seiko offers comfort, saying that she felt the same way when she first learned she was going to have Tsutomu. Two months later Seiko and Mamoru, Mamoru’s gay brother and his partner, and Tsutomu and Chikako gather for a dinner party. Tsutomu and Chikako decide not only to keep the baby but also to get married, and Tsutomu will take a regular job as a high-school teacher.

With today’s life expectancies 50 is young, and one’s days can still be filled with unexpected developments of every kind. Readers will be inspired by the positive attitude Seiko maintains through thick and thin in this pathos-filled, life-affirming, exhilarating tale.