All My Darling Daughters

All My Darling Daughters by Fumi Yoshinaga

All the manga blogs love All My Darling Daughters, and I am no exception. This single volume would be a great first pick for anyone interested in sampling Fumi Yoshinaga’s work if they haven’t already. I sometimes have mixed feelings towards volumes of manga short stories perhaps due to the fact that for books I tend to read far more novels than short stories, and it is a rare short story collection that I keep in the house knowing that I’m going to read it again and again. Some manga anthology collections are just collections of back-up stories that are only loosely linked thematically, but this manga is extremely cohesive. All My Darling Daughters focuses on the lives of women at varying stages of their lives, and it is one of those works that I can see myself rereading for years to come.

The first story introduces Yukiko, a career woman who still lives with her mother. Yukiko’s life takes a dramatic turn when her mother Mari decides that she’s going to live her life the way she wants to after recovering from cancer. Mari marries an actor three years younger than her daughter and brings him home. Yukiko views her new “dad” with an incredible amount of suspicion, and the situation exaggerates the tension between Yukiko and Mari. Yukiko ends up moving out to live with her boyfriend and starts a new chapter in her own life. The relationship between Yukiko and Mari is sometimes sarcastic and acerbic but there is obviously a lot of caring between them. While the the next story about a teacher and the girl who coerces him into having sex was one of the weakest of the bunch, I was quite happy to see Yukiko pop up at a bar yelling “Boo Boo!” at the teacher when he was describing his romantic exploits. Yukiko ends up being the thread that sews all the stories together, even if she appears in some of them only for a few panels.

The middle story in the collection is about Sayako, a woman who takes her grandfather’s advice “not to discriminate among people” to an extreme. Sayako is unselfish to a degree that might not be normal. She decides to go on arranged marriage meetings in order to find a husband, and the person who might be perfect for her is totally unexpected. Yukiko thinks about some of her old friends from school and their agreement to go to work in order to advance the cause of women’s rights. Some of their lives didn’t turn out the way they predicted in high school. The final story in the collection returns to Yukiko and Mari, as Yukiko learns some of the ways her grandmother influenced her mother.

I enjoyed the ways Yoshinaga portrayed her characters’ lives. While there is humor present, her women firmly live in the real world. Endings aren’t always happy and there is sometimes a sense of loss that lingers even when to all outward appearances everything looks fine. I always like Yoshinaga’s art because she has a such a distinct style. She uses a line in her drawings that is deceptively lose, giving some of her illustrations the immediacy of a sketchbook. The art in All My Darling Daughters seems a little more polished and worked over than some of her other works, with more tone and details used in the backgrounds of the panels.

By far the one moment out of the whole collection that will stick in my memory is when Sayako is caring for her sick niece. Her niece throws up in Sayako’s hands, and Sayako is remarkably unconcerned about being covered with vomit. I think holding out your hands so your kid can vomit in them is a universal parenting experience. I remember when one of my kids vomited in my hands I started thinking “Well, I really am a Mom if I am catching puke. I hope he isn’t coming down with a stomach virus. Where is a napkin?” Sayako’s relatively serene reaction to caring for her sick niece illuminates her personality and serves to illustrate why she arrives at a momentous decision about how to lead her life. Yoshinaga’s illustration of a trial that most parents go through allowed me to feel an immediate connection to what Sayako was experiencing. I think portraying moments that forge a connection between reader and fictional character is what great writers do when they are at the peak of their skills.

Review copy provided by the publisher.