This volume contains three short stories in addition to the title novella, which was awarded the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. As with all of Ono’s previous works, the tales are set in a small depopulating fishing village, modeled on his own birthplace in Ōita Prefecture on the southern Japanese island of Kyūshū.
Sanae is a 35-year-old single mother. For several years she lived with a Canadian man, Frederick, in Tokyo, but he left her about a year after their son Kebin was born. After trying for years to fend for herself in the city, she threw in the towel six months ago and returned with her son, now going on four, to her parents’ home in the fishing village where she was born. With his father’s chiselled nose and bright eyes, Kebin is a beautiful child, but he rarely speaks, and he periodically throws fits in which he shakes his stiffened body violently and wails at the top of his lungs.
Sanae’s mother tells her one day that the 40-something son of their friend Mitsu Watanabe is seriously ill and in the hospital. This triggers memories of the time, nine years before, when Sanae and Mitsu went with five other women from their village on a cultural exchange tour to Montreal?the trip on which she had met Frederick. Before going to visit Mitsu’s son in the hospital, Sanae makes a trip with Kebin to the island where her mother was born, to gather shells that are said to shake off misfortune. Sanae and Mitsu’s respective mother-son tales unfold with humor?and at times with mystical wonder.
Author Masatsugu Ono dedicates the book to his brother, who died of a brain tumor in 2014. It is an outstanding collection that expresses not only Ono’s deep love for his birthplace but also his fervent prayers on behalf of the weak and the dead.