A mining town in Russia at the end of the nineties. A miners' strike has paralysed the place, corruption and fraud are flourishing in the transitional period from a socialist economy to a market economy. In this world of lost souls lives Yekaterina Artemovna. This unconspicuous woman has, in the words of her future lover, a "heart of gold". The only bright spots in her lonely life in a meagre communal apartment are literature and her work in the town library.
Yekaterina has a secret however. Whilst on the one hand she tirelessly follows up cases of books having been returned damaged, on the other she secretly sells books from the library inventory at the nearby train station in order to make a little money on the side.
One day a soldier returns a book. He bought it from her on a train before later realising, by the library stamp inside, that the book was stolen. The pair don't recognise each other at the second time of asking however and so begins a relationship that lightens up Yekaterina's otherwise dreary life. But her happiness doesn't last long. On learning of the illegal trade in books the soldier leaves her for her colleague. At this point Yekaterina loses all patience with life...
Featuring the magnificent leading actress Natalya Negoda, the director tells in a minimalist and yet expressive fashion a story of inner and outer emptiness and human cruelty. Like a twisted version of "The Good Person of Szechwan" this film investigates the extent to which honesty is possible in a world full of corruption.