What's Left of Me Is Yours by Stephanie Scott
Published by Doubleday Books
Publication date: June 23, 2020
Genres: Book Clubs, Cultural, Debut, Fiction, Literary
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Sumiko’s mother, Rina, died in a car accident when she was a child. Her parents were divorced, her father not a part of her life, so she went to live with her beloved grandfather. Now, twenty years later, as What’s Left of Me is Yours opens, she receives a call about a man from her mother’s past. This call unleashes the flood that overtakes her life, sweeping away her memories and her closest relationships in this riveting novel that knits together the intimacy of love and the cold detachment of the Japanese legal system.
Author Stephanie Scott splits What’s Left of Me is Yours into two narratives—Sumiko and Rina and Kaitaro—meaning much is revealed early on without lessening the impact of the novel’s final truth. Kaitaro is lodged in Sumiko’s mind as a friend of her mother’s after her parents divorced. What she doesn’t know is that he was hired by her father, to seduce her mother while they were still married. Fantastical as this sounds, Japanese divorce is such a restrictive, acrimonious process that there is an underground industry called wakaresaseya, literally “breaker-upper”. Spouses can hire someone to seduce their partner and then provide evidence against them. This is seen as necessary sometimes due to the amount of money and property involved or even more importantly, children. Sumiko’s father had no interest in her, but could use custody to get Rina to relinquish her family’s money and property to him in order to keep her child. It might have worked except Kaitaro and Rina fell in love.
As What Left of Me progresses we see Rina in an unhappy marriage, meeting a man who loves and supports her in a way her husband never has. Before her husband can enact his plan, Kaitaro quits, destroys the evidence, and Rina files for divorce, planning to marry Kaitaro, not knowing that their meeting was not a coincidence. In the present, the call Sumiko receives is from the Prison Service. That it is about Kaitaro immediately piques her interest. As far as she knows he simply left after her mother died. Now, a soon-to-be lawyer herself, Sumiko begins to unpick two decades of stitches, opening the shroud around her mother’s life and death.
We learn early on what’s happened, so What’s Left of Me is not a thriller. Sumiko is the only one left to discover the truth. The path she has to take to it is one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel. The reason custody is such an issue? Because there is no joint custody in Japan. This is just one revelation from the Japanese judicial system. None of this is new to Sumiko, but to non-Japanese readers the differences between the law in America and the law in Japan keep coming and are eye-opening. It’s a well thought out device on Scott’s part and evens the scales—we know what Sumiko doesn’t know, but we are ignorant of the context of her situation. These intricacies, combined with the complexity of hidden love and control, work together to make What’s Left of Me is Yours a novel that fascinates both culturally and personally.
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