In her exquisite first novel, Mary Yukari Waters explores the complex relationships among three generations of women bound by a painful family history.
Fourteen-year-old Sarah Rexford, half-Japanese and half-American, feels like an outsider when she visits her family in Japan. She quickly learns that in traditional Kyoto, personal boundaries are firmly drawn and actions are not always what they appear.
In the midst of her acculturation, Sarah learns of a family secret. During World War II, her grandmother was forced to give up one of her daughters for adoption. The child was adopted by the grandmother’s sister-in-law, and the siblings were brought up as cousins, growing up on the same lane where both the biological and adoptive mother lived. Even into the present, the arrangement is never discussed. But as Sarah learns, its presence looms over the two houses. In this carefully articulated world, where every gesture and look has meaning, Sarah must learn the rules by which her mother, aunts, and grandmother live.
Delicately balancing drama and restraint as only few writers can, Waters captures these women—their deep passions and tumultuous histories—in this tender and moving novel about the power, beauty, and importance of mother-daughter relationships.
Reading Group Guide
In Japan during World War II, a young mother is forced to allow her sister-in-law to secretly adopt one of her daughters. This arrangement is rarely discussed but its presence looms heavily over the relationships between the two houses; it strongly influences the emotional development of the two girls who grow up knowing which questions are better left unasked.
Decades later, when Yoko Rexford and her half-Japanese and half-American daughter Sarah return to Kyoto to visit, Sarah learns about her family’s complicated past. In this carefully articulated world, where every gesture and look has meaning, Sarah must learn the rules by which her mother, aunts, and grandmother have lived their entire lives. She also discovers what it means to love and to be loved.
Questions for Discussion
- Examine the characters of Sarah and Mrs. Rexford. How do their personalities differ? Does the book offer any explanations for how a daughter could turn out so differe