[If] an emotional love—even just a tiny fragment—has endured throughout a person's life, then one cannot say that life has been entirely wasted. [p. 33]
Inoue Yasushi (1907-1991) was primarily known as a historical novelist from Japan and author of such acclaimed works as Tun-huang. – I haven't read Tun-Huang but the review in Coffeespoons captivated me so I decided to pick up this one, my first Inoue. – In Chronicle of My Mother, translated by Jean Oda Moy, the novelist wrote about the last decade of his mother's life. It charted the mother's aging, senility, and death, up to the late age of 89. The chronicle was divided into three parts. "Under the Blossoms," the first, was published in 1964. The succeeding, "The Light of the Moon" and "The Surface of the Snow," were published five years apart from each other. Inside these poetically titled sections, Inoue shared first-hand accounts of the difficulties he and his siblings faced while caring for their mother ("Granny"). Tthe deterioration of Granny's physical and mental health was detailed in very concrete terms that were surprisingly devoid of self-pity. The children tried to rationalize the puzzling gaps in Granny’s memory. The events that she was able to recall from her past and the possible explanation for this selective memory were a constant preoccupation for Inoue. Granny's senility was evident from her utter forgetfulness, repetitiveness, and mood swings: "We first became aware of the severity of her condition when we realized that Mother herself did not understand, or accept, the fact that she kept forgetting what she said and repeated herself. . . . although she heard what was said, she retained it only that moment and promptly forgot about it." Despite Granny's condition, which was stressful for all those caring for her, her children were very understanding of her condition. They were supportive of each other and were very willing to attend to her needs.
The family culture that was described in the chronicle was exclusively Japanese, though the universal theme will resonate for anyone. In the translator’s introduction, Jean Oda Moy, an Asian American, described the increasing lack of regard for aging parents as a result of materialism: "With the unprecedented social and cultural changes taking place in Japan today, many traditional values which might appear to interfere with productivity and 'success'—in short, with rampant materialism—are losing ground. . . . In Japan as in the West, the elderly today are frequently shunted aside, ignored, or made to feel they are a burden." Inoue's family, as portrayed in the book, was one of those who adhere to a strong sense of duty and love for old parents. The economy of words, the poetry, and the lack of sentimentality made Chronicle of My Mother a touching and accessible read. It is a good example of "grief literature," one that was by no means a depressing elegy. On the contrary, the reader can sense positive feelings from the book and this could be attributed to Inoue's empathy, compassion, and love for his mother. He produced an intimate memoir, one that also served as a paean to motherhood and family ties.