Inoue’s first book, published in Japan in 1949, recounts a tragic love triangle from the different perspectives of those affected.
The book begins with a framing device that feels old-fashioned yet contemporary in its self-consciousness. The “author” explains that he recently received a mysterious letter from a man named Misugi Josuke, who claims to be the subject of a poem published by the “author.” Josuke thinks the poem captured the “desolate dried-up riverbed” within him. He encloses three letters that came to him, asking that the “author” read and then destroy them. The first, addressed to Uncle Josuke, comes from a woman named Shoko, whose mother, Saiko, has recently died. Saiko divorced Shoko’s father for adultery when Shoko was 5. Josuke and his wife, Midori, have been close family friends for as long as Shoko can remember, and Shoko has always felt a special closeness to gentle Midori. The day before Saiko’s death, Shoko was supposed to burn her mother’s diary, but she read it and was shocked to learn that Saiko and Josuke have been having an affair for 13 years and that Saiko has been wracked with guilt. While thanking Josuke for his support, Shoko tells him she never wants to see him or Midori again. She also sends along a letter Saiko left for him. But the second letter is from Midori, who writes that she wants to end their marriage, which has been a sham all along. While appearing to involve herself with other men, she's always pined for Josuke, who's remained coolly aloof. She knows he thought he was protecting her from knowledge of his affair, but she discloses her own secret: She has always known. Saiko’s letter is a farewell. About to die, she tells Josuke her own guilty, passionate secret, one that Josuke has never suspected. Nor will the reader, although it makes complete sense.
This slight but elegant and moving novella is a lovely introduction to a prolific Japanese writer (1907-1991) largely unknown in the West.