Two women from very different cultural and personal backgrounds, far from their native homes and contending with a difficult language barrier, come together and experience a meeting of the heart in this highly sympathetic portrayal. Salima is a refugee from Africa now living in a small Australian town. Abandoned by her husband, she works in the meat department of a supermarket while raising two boys as a single mother. Barely literate in her native tongue, she signs up for an ESL class at a vocational school, and there she meets Sayuri, a Japanese woman who also seeks to improve her English skills. Sayuri has come to Australia with her husband, a research associate at the local university. Having put her own college education on hold in order to take care of her infant daughter, she is under stress from financial uncertainties and her lack of permanent residence status.
The two women get to know each other through their class and begin to develop a friendship. Both of them experience deep sadness when Sayuri's daughter dies while in daycare, and one of Salima's boys goes to live with his father. But Salima refuses to give up her hopes for the future. Her hard work at the supermarket is recognized, and she is promoted to head of the department; she continues to develop a relationship of trust with her remaining son and others around her. Meanwhile, the loss of her daughter drives Sayuri to the edge of despair, but her life, too, eventually begins to turn around. She gives birth to a new daughter, her husband gains an academic position, and with both Salima and her ESL instructor urging her to do so, she resumes her college education. The story ends both on a note of hope and with a surprising twist that reveals the true voice of its narrator. The work was showered with praise by critics and created quite a stir among the reading public after being awarded the 2013 Dazai Osamu Prize.