A first-time author and student of Japanese culture takes on the plight of Asian women in a novel that tries to turn riding the Tokyo rail system into a metaphysical quest with a feminist angle. Mai Asahikawa, the narrator, is a self-declared rider of trains--an expert on the various Tokyo subway and above-ground systems: The best train is the green one that somehow is cheerful even in the worse weather; the red subway has ""vintage without mould, class without snobbishness."" The riders in Tokyo differ according to the time of the day--elegant ""shoppingbagwomen"" in the afternoon, drunken ""salarymen"" late at night. Mai observes them all, particularly the women, and since her riding is constant, she soon comes to recognize certain individuals. Interwoven with her discussions of the trains and their passengers are other observations: She notes, for instance, that many of her friends do not wish to marry because men treat women so shabbily in Japanese society. Mai also begins to divulge details of her own life. She is the daughter of an American nisei who came to Japan to find his roots, married her mother but went back when Mai was a child and remarried; as the daughter of a foreigner, Mai is ineligible for a passport; she's lost her job; her marriage has ended; and her best friend has committed suicide with her two children, because the man she was married to abused his family after he discovered his wife's adultery (with Mai's ex-husband). Then an earthquake and a fortuitous piece of information make Mai a heroine as she leads crowds trapped underground to safety. And a letter from a repentant Dad offering Mai a trip to the US suddenly puts her back on track (as it were). Neither Mai nor her life, either on the rails or off, is vital enough to grip and engage fully. Still, Wolbers is a promising newcomer.