By Stephanie Scott
The bones of this story are laid out on the first pages of the novel: Kaitarō Nakamura, an agent of Japan’s wakaresaseya “marriage break-up” industry, is hired by Osamu Satō to seduce his wife Rina and gather incriminating evidence that will allow him to divorce her, get a lucrative settlement from her wealthy family and have custody of their daughter, Sumiko.
Kaitarō and Rina fall in love with each other. Then Kaitarō murders her, is tried, convicted and sent to prison.
In one dimension, this is a romance between Kaitarō and Rina. In another, it is a cautionary tale of family and societal expectations. And in a third, it is the seismic shifting of Sumiko’s life and identity.
Sumiko was raised by her grandfather, Yoshi Sarashima, an attorney, in Meguro, Tokyo. As she recalls early in the book, “In the evenings he would read to me. He told me every story but my own.”
One of her favorites is Franz Kafka’s THE TRIAL, which opens with the sentence, “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K.”
Sumiko tells her readers, ” . . . my childhood was built on lies.” And, indeed it was, beginning with the lie that her mother died in a car accident when Sumiko was seven.
The challenge author Stephanie Scott puts before readers in this book is who is telling lies about whom? Where is the truth here?
Many years later, Sumiko is standing in her grandfather’s study. She has just finished her training as a lawyer and is getting ready to give a talk to final-year law students at Tōdai, the University of Tokyo’s law school, when the phone rings. A voice on the other end asks to speak to her grandfather who isn’t home. After a few more questions the voice apologizes and says the call is about Kaitarō Nakamura and then hangs up.
Thus begins Sumiko’s journey of discovery.
Scott’s story-telling is as precise and elegant as a platter of sushi and as gentle and subtle as a Japanese watercolor. Her descriptions of places in different seasons are so exquisite you want to put down the book and book a flight to Tokyo.
The story flows between characters and their histories and back and forth in time. The juxtaposition of all that Rina gave up to meet her father’s expectations with the promise of a new and fulfilling life with Kaitarō make this a breathtaking tragedy. Scott puts the Japanese legal system on trial, but she doesn’t allow any of her characters to escape accountability.
This book ends on a gently uplifting note. Sumiko has all that can be known of her mother’s life to guide her in making her own decisions about life. Scott leaves the decisions facing her wide open.
About the Author: Stephanie Scott
Singapore-born Stephanie Scott was inspired to write WHAT’S LEFT OF ME IS YOURS but an actual case in Japan where a wakaresaseya was convicted of murdering the woman he was paid to seduce — and insisted he loved her.
Scott read English literature at the Universities of York and Cambridge and holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Oxford University. She was awarded a British Association of Japanese Studies Toshiba Studentship for anthropological work on WHAT’S LEFT OF ME IS YOURS. She was also made a member of the British Japanese Law Association as a result of her research.
She won the A.M. Heath Prize, the Jerwood Arvon Prize for Prose Fiction, was a runner-up in the Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award and was selected as one of The Observer’s Ten Best New Voices of 2020.
This is her first novel.