...[a] gorgeous and intimate novel ... 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 ... Part 2 is a wandering, sometimes frustrating sequel to the very straightforward Hemingwayesque quality of Part 1. Yet so worth it. The resolution of Inheritance From Mother is natural and satisfying in myriad ways.
At 446 pages, the novel can be baggy on occasion, but 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 ... 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.
Mizumura’s realism embraces family dynamics and bodily decline, both of which are anatomized without a hint of sentimentality. But it is perhaps most evident in her candid treatment of money ... Mizumura depicts the ordeals of middle age with intelligence and empathy. The very modesty of Mitsuki’s needs is demoralizing ... The reader shares in Mizumura’s sheer pleasure in invention as she raises narrative possibilities and discards them, changes focus and atmosphere, and adds new characters to keep the momentum going ... Even readers who have no particular interest in that literary history will find in Mizumura a fascinating example of how a writer can be at the same time imaginatively cosmopolitan and linguistically rooted.
The 66 chapters are brief, emotionally combustible and, in Juliet Winters Carpenter’s translation, liberally strewn with clichés (blood freezes, people stop in their tracks and reach for the stars). There are also fascinating asides about the history of the serial novel in Japan, because Mitsuki believes that these fairy-tale melodramas were responsible for shaping her mother’s acquisitive personality and may have contributed to her own marital unhappiness. So 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.
For anyone with a family, Inheritance from Mother will almost certainly pierce those abstruse narratives we create of our own families, and in the best cases, recontextualize those relationships with more intricacy and compassion ... Mizumura’s depiction of the relationship between eastern and western ideals is one of the most gripping aspects of the novel ... Mizumura inevitably evokes comparisons to Isabelle Allende and Amy Tan for her focus on strong and resilient female characters, multi-generational families in a culture where family comes first, and dynamics of Western invasion into Eastern traditions. But her work is steeped in self-awareness, brazenly critiquing the traditional structures so integral to her history.
The plotting is brisk, with an aggressive forward momentum more characteristic of thrillers or pulpy fiction. The sixty-six chapters are economical, each detailing a single event or memory. But the fleet-footedness of her plotting matches the profundity of her investigation into family relationships ... The novel’s power, in large part due to this intelligent sequencing of events, lies in the sense that the first chapter’s point of jadedness becomes inevitable, a naturally unnatural response to a lifetime of thwarted dreams.
The author demonstrates that what appears calm on the surface can hide unimaginable depths of despair. 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.
The novel has an unblinking focus which accumulates to near-claustrophobic proportions, yet 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.