As the author herself describes it, this novel is "a view of the constellation that is a family; a tale of loves that could not be; and a gentle unraveling of personal histories?things that have come to pass and those that are yet to be."
Each of the first five chapters focuses on an individual member of the Mizushima family. Shigeyuki, a carpenter and the president of his own construction firm specializing in traditional Japanese structures, has remarried. His two sons, Mitsugu and Akira, have a different mother than his two daughters, Sae and Miki. As the narrative opens, Shigeyuki's second wife, Shizuko, has passed away, and Akira?who left home at age 20?is coming back for the first time in 15 years.
Mitsugu, the eldest son at 53, has refused to carry on the family business. Akira is now 35, Sae 34, and Miki, still unwed, 30. Fifteen years earlier, Akira had been involved physically with Sae after comforting her in the wake of a rape she suffered. He had believed there were no blood ties between them, but when it came to light that she was his half-sister, born in an extramarital affair between Shigeyuki and Shizuko, Akira cut off all ties with his family and left. He now has a wife and child of his own, but has left them behind and come back to rekindle his romance with Sae, who is still single. Miki, meanwhile, is eternally enmeshed in illicit affairs due to her attraction to other women's lovers.
In the book's final chapter, the patriarch Shigeyuki divulges the secrets of his past to his assembled children and grandchildren. In his youth he fought in the war in China, killing again and again and dallying with a Korean girl who had been forced into sex slavery for the Japanese troops. This is a densely woven tapestry of a novel.