The first half of the story begins in Japan in the mid 1950s. The main character of the story is Satomi, and she relives the teachings and life advice from her mother Akiko. The author depicts the colorful and rich heritage of Japanese culture, and the reader will enjoy the scenes being painted by the story. Satomi realizes that she is special, and understands the burdens that come along with being different. Satomi's mother was scorned in their village, the other women were jealous of Akiko because she knew too much about men, and they were threatened by those secrets that she held. Satomi was raised with superstitions, and was always on the lookout for demons meant to steal her soul.
Satomi begins piano lessons and wins local contests with her talent. She finds that mysterious men are her benefactors and she is shunned by other women because of this fact. Her mother relents and gets married to make a better life for Satomi. The story then shifts to when she meets Timothy Snowden, moves to Paris and begins a new life. When Timothy disappears, Satomi must find a new life for herself and discover what she will do to make her mark on the world.
The second half of the story focuses on Rumi, Satomi's American daughter. Rumi and her father Francis are in San Francisco in the 1980s, where Rumi sees Snowden and continues to hear the voice of her lost mother.
The reader will find the characters less interesting in the second half of the story. It may be difficult to keep up with the characters and the storyline, since there are new characters and their new motivations that are never quite explained. The best parts of the story are when the mothers and daughters react to their mothers, to the advice that proves right, and to the aspects of their lives that they cannot anticipate. It is a story that is best read consistently through, not one to pick up and put down for very long.