A piano prodigy, daughter of a Japanese outcast, flees motherhood but can’t escape pursuit by her American offspring.
Akiko runs a bar in a country town in postwar Japan. Her daughter Satomi’s father is unknown but rumored to be a foreigner. That, and the bar’s popularity with the town’s men, causes the locals to shun mother and daughter. When Satomi wins a piano competition, Akiko marries a prosperous fisherman to finance her daughter’s musical education. While studying at a prestigious Tokyo conservatory, Satomi grows fond of a young man named Masayoshi. Fearing marriage will interfere with Satomi’s concert career, Akiko discourages Masayoshi from proposing. The disappointed suitor becomes a Buddhist monk and ultimately gets his own temple in Akita to the north. Satomi goes to Paris, where her musical zeal gives way to passion for Timothy, a rakish American antique importer and occasional smuggler. Helping Timothy scout artifacts in Japan, Satomi learns of her mother’s death. She attends Akiko’s obsequies at Masayoshi’s temple, where, not entirely by chance, she encounters Francois, another crooked Asian antique purveyor. Timothy is arrested in Tokyo and imprisoned. Disowned by her stepfamily, Satomi has no choice but to accompany Francois to California, where she’s exploited as his underpaid antique authenticator and mistress. When Satomi gives birth to Rumi, she feels trapped and, on impulse, walks away from San Francisco and her infant. Francois raises Rumi, who soon evinces a collector’s clairvoyance: objects tell her whether they’re genuine or fake. She’s haunted by the haggard ghost of a woman she assumes is the mother Francois has told her is dead. When Rumi discovers a morbid maternal memento secreted with Francois’ hot merchandise, she heads for Japan, where Masayoshi holds the key to Satomi’s whereabouts.
Debut novelist Mockett’s portrayal of everyday life in Japan is engrossing, but the passivity of her protagonists belies her intent to demonstrate how talented women defy domestic constraints.