Set in the author's hometown, this saga examines the complicated struggles of a family. Said to be one of the literary masterpieces of its generation in Japan, it received the 1977 Mainichi Publishing Culture Award.
The protagonist is Akiyuki Takehara, a 26-year-old born and raised in an alleyway, or roji?which in this novel refers to ghettos inhabited by minority groups?in an impoverished village sandwiched between the Kareki Sea and the mountains of Kumano. Though the village faces the sea, no ships can dock near it because of the cliffs that line the shore. Here, there is no flat terrain; the land shoots straight up from the sea to the mountains. The trees by the water's edge are all withered (kareki) because of the ocean wind that blows incessantly. In this destitute land, Akiyuki was born out of wedlock, fathered by a man different from that of his brother and sisters. He works as a laborer at a construction company run by his brother-in-law. Ryuzo Hamamura, Akiyuki's real father, is released from prison when Akiyuki is three years old, but the two never live together. Ryuzo is a giant of a man, known by such nicknames as "Lord of the Flies" and "Beast" among the locals, who speak of him with contempt. It is constantly rumored that he is involved in one crime or another?for example, that he set fire to the barracks behind the train station and made money selling the land. In any case, Ryuzo strikes it "rich," escaping the roji for the hills. In addition to Akiyuki's mother, Ryuzo fathers children with his wife and other lovers; and Fusa Takehara, Akiyuki's real mother, gives birth to four children with her ex-husband before she has Akiyuki. When Akiyuki is eight years old, his mother remarries a man with a son of his own. Akiyuki spends his life in the roji?a closed society where rumors abound?under the eagle eyes of its residents. He carries with him the baggage of his father's blood and the entangled destiny he shares with his brother, sisters, and stepfather. Love and hate repeatedly crisscross until Akiyuki faces a decisive confrontation with his father and kills his son, Akiyuki's own half-brother. Numerous tales are woven into a complex web in this one novel, creating a magnificent world of fiction drawing on the mystique of the Kumano region.