The Train of Small Mercies follows one day in the lives of six people who encounter the funeral train of Robert F. Kennedy as it travels from New York to Washington, DC.
Oei is a painter in her father’s studio, his oldest and most faithful disciple. Her father, Hokusai, is a famed artist throughout Edo, and his influence is reaching other parts of Japan as well. Despite the shogun’s censorship of art and free speech, Hokusai’s work only grows in popularity, and he even sells his art to the Dutch traders who are allowed limited engagement with Japan.
Cecilia Morton—“Chess,” as everyone calls her—is an average, gangly girl growing up in the 1940s Arkansas Delta. When her father died a few years ago, she became heir to his land and the massive holdings of his father as well. But her grandfather is not ready to relinquish control yet, and when he sells off some of Chess’s father’s land to the US government to build a Japanese American detainment camp, he sets in motion events that no one in their small town could have fathomed.
Sally Ketchum has had a hard life. Her father, a dirt-farming alcoholic and religious fanatic, made her childhood living hell. At eighteen, she meets a young, charming man named Tex Jones who frees her from the prison of East Texas, but their incredible bond is broken when he dies in a tragic airplane accident.
Babe, Millie, and Grace have been friends for as long as they can remember. They have their differences—pugnacious Babe grew up in the poor section of town and never met with approval from Grace’s upper-class mother, while sweet Millie dealt with the loss of her parents at a young age. But now, as World War II summons their husbands and boyfriends, the women must come to terms with the reality of an America at war, where romance and joy are replaced with grief and loss and then with strength and wisdom.