Woman Running in the Mountains by Yūko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt, introduction by Lauren Groff / ISBN 9781681375977 / 288-page paperback from New York Review of Books Classics
Set in 1970s Japan, this tender and poetic novel about a young, single mother struggling to find her place in the world is an early triumph by a modern Japanese master.
Alone at dawn, in the heat of midsummer, a young woman named Takiko Odaka departs on foot for the hospital to give birth to a baby boy. Her pregnancy, the result of a brief affair with a married man, is a source of sorrow and shame to her abusive parents. For Takiko, however, it is a cause for reverie. Her baby, she imagines, will be hers and hers alone, a challenge that she also hopes will free her. Takiko’s first year as a mother is filled with the intense bodily pleasures and pains that come from caring for a newborn. At first she seeks refuge in the company of other women—in the hospital, in her son’s nursery—but as the baby grows, her life becomes less circumscribed as she explores Tokyo, then ventures beyond the city into the countryside, toward a mountain that captures her imagination and desire for a wilder freedom.
Yūko Tsushima (1947–2016) is considered one of the most important Japanese writers of her generation. She is best known for her novel Mountain of Fire and her short-story collection The Shooting Gallery. Much of her work is influenced by the oral epics and tales of pre-modern Japan, as well as her own experience as a single mother. Her father was the famous Japanese writer Osamu Dazai, who committed suicide when Tsushima was only a year old. Her work has been translated into over a dozen languages.