Originally published as a "newspaper novel" over a 2-year period, this engrossing novel consists of 66 short chapters, creating its strength and paradoxically, its weakness. Its strength in that the length made possible the depth of the examination of a 50ish woman dealing with two of lives greatest challenges at the same time. The inherent weakness lies in the fact that due to its original form, there was quite a bit of repetition that would not have been present in a conventionally published novel. There are many characters, primarily 50-ish Mitsuki Katsura, who, along with her more affluent but less stable sister, is caring for her egotistical dragon of a mother whose increasing dementia is causing her to make more difficult demands, but is never satisfied ("Her mother would never be happier no matter how much she tried to do for her, and this realization produced in her sense of futility that added to her exhaustion."). Her entire life she had been second fiddle to her more beautiful older sister, but now found herself shouldering most of the burden of caring for their mother. In addition, she discovers her husband, on sabbatical in Viet Nam, has another, younger woman in his life, and her sense of worth, fragile to begin with, is eroding at an alarming rate.
Although the mother's death is dealt with in the first chapter, the rest of Part I lays out the backstory of these three woman, their complex history, and, most notably, the cultural mores of Japan family life in the post-WWII era. In the second half, Mitsuki uses some of her inheritance to spend several weeks in a mountain inn, taking stock of her future as dictated by her past, and as inspired by her emerging independence. I loved this book, all nearly 500 pages, despite the repetitions.