Spanning half a century from 1953, this novel follows the lives of three generations of women in a venerable family residing in the hills near the Sea of Japan. The Akakuchiba family traces its roots back to olden times, when its ancestors brought over ironworking techniques from the Korean Peninsula. As the story opens, Tatsu, the matriarch, takes a liking to ten-year-old Man'yo and handpicks the girl to be the future bride of her son Yoji, the family heir. Ten years later Man'yo, an orphan who had been left behind by nomad hunters known as the "mountain people" when they passed through the area, duly marries Yoji and gives birth to four children; although illiterate, she gains the trust of those around her through her powers of clairvoyance, establishing her position as mistress of the household. But her promising first son, Namida, dies at age 20 as Man'yo herself had foreseen at his birth, and the family's affairs begin to revolve around her older daughter, Kemari. By this time, however, the Akakuchiba iron works no longer earn the profits they did during Japan's postwar boom years, and the family fortunes go into steep decline as the community, too, is drained by depopulation. Kemari rebels during girlhood and achieves local notoriety as the leader of a motorcycle gang, then becomes a manga artist in her twenties, but dies after 12 years of producing one bestseller after another to prop up the family finances. She also marries and has a daughter, Toko, the narrator of the novel. Toko, for her part, sets out to unravel the secret behind Man'yo's dying confession that she once killed someone. Through these interweaving stories, the ambitious saga explores the ties between women's work and love.