In this collection of small gems, author Mieko Kawakami, who is also highly regarded as a poet, puts her talents on full display as she meticulously portrays the states of mind of characters who hang in limbo in the aftermath of a natural disaster, or in the face of the anticipated "big one." Subtle movements of the heart are expressed through the merest incident or figure of speech, leaving a powerful impression on readers.
Franz Liszt's piano piece Liebesträume (Dreams of Love) plays a key role in the title story. The narrator is a childless 40-year-old housewife married to a white-collar worker. Two months after she and her husband buy a house near a river in Tokyo, the city is hit by a major earthquake. She remains depressed from day to day for about a month, but eventually the tension, fears, and gloom begin to ease, and she realizes that she has gone through spring in a daze. Buying some cut roses at the florist triggers an internal shift, and she goes on to buy potted plants, throwing herself into gardening. Then one day she speaks for the first time with the elderly woman who lives next door and learns that she is the piano player whose music she had been hearing every so often since moving in. At this woman's invitation, the narrator begins going next door twice weekly to listen as her neighbor practices Liebesträume. On the thirteenth visit, the woman finally succeeds in playing the piece through without a mistake. Rejoicing together, they impulsively share a heartfelt kiss; afterwards, the narrator never visits her neighbor again.
Of the seven stories in this collection, five were written after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. An English translation of one of the stories, March Yarn, is included in the anthology March Was Made of Yarn (Vintage, 2012), published on the anniversary of the earthquake.