The story spans roughly two decades in the life of Waka Honda, from when she enters college until her late thirties when she achieves success as a novelist.
In 1985, at the age of 18, Waka moves to Tokyo from the regional city where she grew up, and begins dating fellow student Sentarō Uchimura, whose urbane manner and extensive knowledge of film, drama, and music draw Waka instantly to him. One year older than Waka, Sentarō is a talented artist and is able to begin working professionally while still a student. His single-panel manga accompanied by witty punch lines gain favorable attention, garnering him a regular spot in a magazine, and he is quickly on his way to becoming a popular cultural figure. For her part, Waka continues to vacillate over her career choice, but with Sentarō’s help, she finds a job with a publisher. What she really wants is to get married and support Sentarō’s work as his agent, but Sentarō refuses to even move in together.
A turning point comes in their relationship when Waka is 25. She submits a manuscript on which she has been working for two years to a major publisher’s new-writer contest, and wins. Her writing of the novel had been prompted by an old book she came across in the storehouse at her parents’ home, from which she discovered that her grandmother, about whom her mother has never had anything good to say, was an author who wrote under the pen name of Tae Yamaguchi. Waka’s mother still says of her own mother, “She’s no fancy-schmancy author. She’s just a woman who fell prey to a man and made herself an embarrassment,” and she sees nothing to be happy about when told of Waka’s triumph. Waka’s grandmother had once declared, “Never try to compete with men. You’ll just get crushed.” Waka wonders what she had experienced that made her say such a thing.
Waka and Sentarō move in together. Waka quits her day job to be a full-time writer now that her writing has become a source of income. Not doing as well as he once was, Sentarō takes on the domestic chores, but both house and meals descend into a shambles. At 30 Waka becomes pregnant, but has a miscarriage. Sentarō begins disparaging Waka’s approach to life and accuses her of stealing his ideas for her novels; he runs off on a trip overseas, drifting aimlessly from one place to another. Shaken, Waka is unable to focus on her writing. Meanwhile, she also learns that her grandmother had indeed been “apprenticed” to a struggling male writer, but was merely one of several women he had treated as servants and sex slaves . . .
Brilliantly interweaving such weighty and complex themes as a woman’s independence, resistance from even the man she is closest to, the minefield of mother-daughter relationships, and the growth of one woman as a writer, Kakuta has produced a compelling tale sure to strike a chord with working women everywhere. The hopelessness of any human being truly understanding another runs like a basso continuo beneath the lines of this utterly contemporary masterwork.