2016年2月29日（月） ― 2016-02-29
In Memory of Yuko Tsushima
by Tomoyuki Hoshino, writer
Captivated by the Openness of Her Heart and Mind
Yuko Tsushima and I began to develop a close friendship in the early 2000s. It was when I took part in the Japan-India Writers’ Caravan, a group of Japanese writers who decided to go to India on a do-it-yourself tour to meet firsthand with Indian writers. Tsushima-san wanted very much to visit an indigenous village in Bengal, whose indigenous people have a long history of oppression. She listened intently to one of the elders talking about the village’s history and culture, while also taping him. But the whole time I couldn’t take my eyes off the wrinkles around the old man’s elbows. They were so dense they formed a kind of design.
Afterwards, when I admitted this to Tsushima-san, she said at once, “Me too! They made quite an impression on me.” I was delighted. Well, well, I thought, Tsushima-san is a child at heart, and—setting aside what that says about me—I felt we had something in common.
Put like this, it risks sounding merely like a racist focus on otherness, but what we had both received was a real, textured sense of the people who lived in that place. I was delighted to learn that we’d both had the same reaction: here was a person I could really get to know, someone with whom I clicked. And I was right, as it turned out.
The Japan-India Writers’ Caravan got started because Tsushima-san thought it was weird that Japanese and Indian writers had to get to know each other’s literatures via their reception in the West, and a number of us shared that feeling. We wouldn’t rely on official events or a program organized by somebody else; we would do it ourselves. It was action like this that was so very characteristic of Tsushima-san. I became quite captivated by her open-hearted, open-minded approach, the way that in encountering complete strangers she was eager for direct contact, not mere formalities. And I felt as though I was inside a Tsushima novel. There are many characters—especially women—in her books who take bold action, seemingly in the grip of a fever, to bring themselves directly into contact with another person. How fired-up, and refreshing, and good it feels to act like that!
The novels were Tsushima-san through and through. She faced the things that made her angry, the problems she couldn’t look away from, and people for whose way of life she felt a deep affinity; she faced them head on and stuck with them and turned them into words. There were no taboos for Tsushima-san.
She was always frank and outspoken, and she usually had a slightly abstracted air. Talking with her, I was able to be open about my own emotions. At things like literary award parties, which I’d rather not attend if I could help it, as soon as I spotted Tsushima-san I would breathe easy as if I’d found a respite. I’d join her and we’d chat, complaining about politics, cracking a joke or two.
That tacit understanding we had has been severed, and at this moment I am groaning with the physical pain. But when I read her fiction, communication is instantly restored. I can hear Tsushima-san’s voice: “So it’s over to you, then, Hoshino-san, okay?” I want to answer, “Set your mind at rest.”
Writer Yuko Tsushima died on February 18 of lung cancer. She was 68.
Sankei Shimbun, February 24, 2016
(Translated by Geraldine Harcourt)