Ben Lindenheim gets separated from his brother Saul when they escape Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport. Saul boards the wrong ship and is transported to the US instead.
Ben is looked after well by the English family that hosts him. He falls in love and marries a young girl who lives in the neighbouring street. Britain has become his home, so when World War II breaks out he joins up and fights with the British.
Most of his unit are killed but he is looked after by the Resistance, finally making it as far as Malta where he is able to carry on working for the military. There, however, he learns that his wife and baby son and his wife’s family have all been killed in the Blitz.
After the war he goes to South Africa and is swindled out of a collection of diamonds he has found.
He starts to suffer from psoriasis and throughout the rest of his life he is hospitalised frequently for it. It flares up every time he is stressed. He meets his new wife Gail, a nurse at the hospital, and they have two children. The older one, Owen, is a disappointment. He is expelled from the school at which he had a scholarship. He leaves home but returns twelve years later after being in prison. Within a year he is killed in a motorcycle accident; it was probably his own fault – he was four times over the limit.
Daughter Helen fares a little better though her first marriage is to an abusive partner.
Ben has been secretive all of his life and we aren’t exactly sure why he doesn’t tell Gail and his children about his past. Possibly it is because it is too painful.
He does come into contact with his brother right at the end of the book – after he has suffered a stroke.
After his death, daughter Helen puts the pieces together to
tell his story. A DNA test has told her that she is Jewish. She writes in order
to find an explanation as to why her father always overreacted when glass broke,
something that started after the Kristallnacht.