Eight precise, subtly moral tales of woman's plight in modern Japan, by an acclaimed Japanese author (Child of Fortune, 1983). From the opening story, ""A Sensitive Season,"" in which a woman's unhappy love affair is observed by her clinging nephew and grandfather, Tsushima's collection exudes a distinct sexual politic: woman as victim, man as aggressor. In ""South Wind,"" for instance, a woman dreams of a visit from an old acquaintance while suffering the callous attentions of her lover; in ""Missing,"" a woman imagines her daughter wantonly seduced by a boyfriend; in ""The Embrace,"" a man gently bullies a woman into near-submission. Yet Tsushima leavens this chauvinism--perhaps a response to Japan's ultra-traditional society--with compassion; her women are resilient, knowing both how to endure and how to pity the men who crumple beneath life's weight. In the longest tale here, ""The Chrysanthemum Beetle,"" for example, the weak leg in a love triangle is the two-timing male. What's best about these tales, however, is not Tsushima's poignant presentation of the Japanese woman's lot, but her acute attunement to psychological and physical truth--ably transmitted by Harcourt's fine translation. In the title story, an abandoned mother travels with her children to the beach only to find sand soiled with refuse: ""The mother picked her way across. . . .The transparent blue sparkle was not to be found. And yet: the crash of the waves. The sharp smell flung up with the spray. . .She told herself repeatedly she was glad to be there; though not the one she had in mind, it was still the sea. She could always be reborn, as long as she had the sea. . . ."" Somber, indelible tales, which, despite their thematic male-baiting, offer bracing, often moving glimpses of contemporary Japanese life.