Inheritance from Mother (Hardcover)

By Minae Mizumura

Other Press, 9781590517826, 464pp.

Publication Date: May 2, 2017

List Price: 27.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Award-winning novelist Minae Mizumura demystifies the notion of the selfless Japanese mother and the adult daughter 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, is a professor at another 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 far from the image of the patient, self-sacrificing Japanese matriarch. Mitsuki finds herself dreaming of the day when her mother will finally pass on. While doing everything she can to ensure her mother’s happiness, she grows weary of the responsibilities of a doting daughter and worries she is sacrificing her chance to find fulfillment in her middle age.
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 resilience of women.

About the Author

Minae Mizumura is one of the most important writers in Japan today. Born in Tokyo, she moved with her family to Long Island, New York, when she was twelve. She studied French literature at Yale College and Yale Graduate School. Her other novels include the Yomiuri Prize–winning A True Novel, Zoku meian (Light and Dark Continued), a sequel to the unfinished classic Light and Dark by Natsume Soseki, and Shishosetsu from left to right (An I-Novel from Left to Right), an autobiographical work. Her most recent book in English, The Fall of Language in the Age of English, was published in 2015 by Columbia University Press. She lives in Tokyo.

Juliet Winters Carpenter studied Japanese language and literature at the University of Michigan and the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Tokyo. Carpenter’s translation of Kobo Abe’s novel Secret Rendezvous won the 1980 Japan–United States Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature, and her translation of Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel won the same prize for 2014–2015, making her the only person to have won this prestigious award twice.

Praise For Inheritance from Mother

“The story of how Mitsuki confronts a philandering husband and a dying mother illuminates a midlife conundrum that is both Japanese and universal.”WASHINGTON POST

"Ms. Mizumura’s frank, talky novel confronts the emotional and financial toll of looking after an ailing parent. Mitsuki’s mother, Noriko, was a vain and energetic social climber who clawed her way to an elite station in Japanese society. But now that she’s bedridden—beneath the fanciest linens available—her ‘unceasing quest for exhilaration’ merely torments her. Mitsuki’s marriage is on a rocky downslope as well. She finds out that her husband has been industriously cheating on her for years. It’s the opposite of a storybook tale, yet Ms. Mizumura has tricked it out in the fashion of a 19th-century page-turner. Conceived, she states in a prefatory note, as “an homage to the dying tradition of serial novels,” it first appeared in installments in a Japanese newspaper in 2010 and 2011. The 66 chapters are brief, emotionally combustible...Ms. Mizumura craftily mixes the old with the new, creating a highly readable throwback to popular dime novels that replaces gilt with guilt and romance with real talk.” WALL STREET JOURNAL

"In an antiseptic Tokyo of stifling politesse and prohibitive cost of living, the aging protagonist [of Inheritance from Mother], a French-language instructor named Mitsuki, waits for her mother to finish the tedious business of dying...there is admirable ambition in the way Mitsuki's story expands into a much larger portrait of middle-class anomie in a Japan still reckoning with its past and the paradoxes—and fraught compromises—of its identity...Was the relentless yearning for youth and freedom something that could be passed down from one generation of women to the next, in both the East and the West? In Mizumura’s novel, the new world may be constructed a thousand times, but invariably it reaches back into the old, the kind of inheritance that just may emanate darkness—as well as light.” NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 

“Minae Mizumura’s gorgeous and intimate novel, ‘Inheritance from Mother,’ paints the conundrum [between generations] bright — both specifically, as a Japanese issue, and universally, as the developed world’s aging population explodes. . . Originally published in 2010 and 2011 as a serial novel in the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most widely read daily newspaper, ‘Inheritance from Mother’ went on to win the Osaragi Jiro Award. . . One of the most entrancing things about this novel is that it retains the rhythm of a serial even in bound-book form. . .  Mizumura’s writing is urgent yet thorough, and her plot — with its multiple divorces and infidelities, scheming, legends and deaths — just short of overwrought. But her prose is controlled and as dense as poetry. . . The resolution of ‘Inheritance from Mother’ is natural and satisfying in myriad ways.” WASHINGTON POST

"[Mizumura constructs] a story whose distinct layers, like lacquer, are laid over one another to form a lustrous whole. In Inheritance From Mother, the lines between past and present blur; the East is transposed like a palimpsest over West; and life shades into literature.”THE NEW REPUBLIC 

“Mitsuki is glad when her mother dies. So is her sister, Natsuki, who rejoices to be “getting free of her while I’m in my fifties.” Their narcissistic matriarch, we learn, stunted her daughters’ lives by behaving like a romantic heroine in the century-old Japanese serial The Golden Demon. Mizumura’s startlingly unsentimental portrait of a woman who begins to examine her own life after her mother’s death electrified readers when it was itself serialized in Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in 2010 and 2011. Mitsuki has always been a dutiful daughter despite knowing that her mother preferred the flighty Natsuki. It isn’t until her mother suffers a grave fall—and her husband betrays her—that she awakens to a duty she’s shirked her whole life: to take care of herself. Chapter by chapter, Mizumura gives her heroine courage to believe in the right to independence and happiness—an inheritance not of wealth, but of self-knowledge.” —O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE

"Stunningly graceful."  THE RUMPUS

“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

“… Suffused with Japanese culture and traditions… Inheritance from Mother is a serial novel, in the old tradition, and Mizumura repeatedly explores that old, lost world too. Yet again, the clash and overlap of cultures figures in the story, cleverly brought up by Mizumura in yet another guise. A fascinating example of the overlap of Japanese and foreign influences, nicely brought to the fore by Mizumura.” COMPLETE REVIEW
“…A novel of female endurance and obligation…“She won’t do us all a favor and die” is one of the many shameful but exquisitely truthful thoughts shared by the Katsura daughters…about their mother… in this understated anatomization of intense family feelings. Distinguished Japanese writer Mizumura (The Fall of Language in the Age of English, 2015, etc.) traces this agonizing phase, and all the generational circumstances and feelings prefiguring it… [and] her husband’s latest infidelity and the likelihood of divorce. An “homage to the dying tradition of serial novels”…it's narrated in brief, simple chapters, the tone even and mature as it delves into the unhappiest, most intractable corners of a middle-aged woman’s life and psyche. Questions about love, money, and female choices are posed amid contrasts with earlier generations of women and altered expectations following World War II…the decisions finally made by Mitsuki arrive with a persuasive sense of late-life liberation. A long, minute, subtle consideration of aging, loyalty, and the bonds of love grounded in thE material details of Japanese culture but resonating far beyond.”KIRKUS

Inheritance from Mother speaks to the universal challenge of caring for elders and the plight of a middle-aged woman facing life alone, with an ending that nonetheless offers a message of renewal and hope.” INTERNATIONAL EXAMINER

“First serialized in a Japanese newspaper, this family drama shows the dark side of longevity: the exhausting, often protracted, care for an infirm parent who clings stubbornly to life instead of dying ‘the way they were supposed to,’ as Mizumura puts it in her book…throughout the 66 chapters Mizumura keeps the pages turning in a style that is smooth and engaging…Judging from the letters of gratitude Mizumura says she has received, this is an important book that addresses a social taboo head-on, helping people to face and perhaps overcome the stigmas associated with their difficulties.” JAPAN TIMES 

“Award-winning novelist Minae Mizumura in Inheritance from Mother demystifies the notion of the selfless Japanese mother and the adult daughter honor-bound to care for her...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 resilience of women.” SIRREADALOT.ORG 

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.”
“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

“This is a harrowing novel that truly hits home. Caregiving, marital infidelity, economic uncertainty, the threat of old age and enfeeblement: all the reasons why ‘it’s tough being a woman’ are here on full display. But there is nothing cut-and-dried about the story, which offers plenty of common ground for a positive evaluation of life, with sympathetic episodes that affirm the dignity of women. The novel can be read as the saga of three generations of women, and as a model case that gives food for thought concerning caregiving, divorce, and women’s self-reliance. . . This book’s answer to the ultimate question of which to choose, love or money, is at once utterly contemporary and profound.” —ASAHI SHIMBUN

“The sentence ‘Today my mother died’ resonates with the alienation of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, and passages on women’s self-reliance offer echoes of Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘A Room of One’s Own.’ In the second half, towards the end as the protagonist Mitsuki confronts her husband’s betrayal and her own impending old age, the scene shifts to a lakeside hotel and the story takes on some of the elements of an Agatha Christie novel. Who will the ‘killer’ prove to be? The longing for soaring love and the graphic trials of caregiving and married life. The beauty of ideals a­­nd the ugliness of reality. This exquisite novel, though accepting of the world’s heavy shackles, is touched throughout by a soft, fresh breeze.”MAINICHI SHIMBUN

“Through the lives of various women, the novel consistently portrays two issues: money and love. The intensity and brilliance of the execution fills me with awe.” MAINICHI SHIMBUN

“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

“The features of each character rise in the mind’s eye, due to descriptions of great expressiveness and clarity that fully showcase the author’s polished sensibility and superb command of language. The novel is over 500 pages long, but reads so quickly that one is impatient to turn every page.” —YOMIURI SHIMBUN

“Inheritance from Mother is the author’s first newspaper novel. She instructed herself to ‘keep it entertaining by all means.’ There is no shortage of techniques to draw the reader’s interest, including the insertion of scenes in the style of an Agatha Christie mystery.” —SA­­NKEI SHIMBUN

“Minae Mizumura’s Inheritance from Mother: A Newspaper Novel is the kind of masterpiece destined to emerge in today’s aging society. Already exhausted from caring for her aged mother, the protagonist is beset by a new trial: her husband’s infidelity. Tragedies of modern society are never treated as social issues but are presented throughout in the language of the individual, which is the language of literature. This page-turner is both thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying.” —SHUKAN SHINCHO

 “This book depicts the hilarity, pain, and absurdity of life in crystal-clear prose. Perhaps most moving of all are the agonizing life-and-death struggles of the people whom Mitsuki encounters at the hotel in Hakone where she travels alone after her mother’s death. There for the first time she­ contemplates divorce head-on: ‘After giving the matter a great deal of thought, she decided that even if she did not go through with the divorce, facing squarely the fact that her marriage had been a failure was the least she could do to live out her life with dignity.’” —SHUKAN GENDAI

 “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 author’s rich vocabulary and power of expression are overwhelming, her character portraits so spot-on that the characters are easy to visualize. Other literary works pop up here and there, an irresistible touch. The reason for the subtitle ‘A newspaper novel’ becomes clear in the second half. This is an eminently satisfying read, skillfully interweaving the warp of the story with the woof of description.” —HON NO ZASSHI