A young boy, Jakob Beer, is rescued from the muddy ruins of a buried Polish village in Nazi-occupied Poland, during the Second World War. Of his family, he is the only one who has survived. He is smuggled out to an island in Greece by an unlikely saviour, the scientist and humanist Athos Roussos. There, in the seclusion and tenderness of Athos’s house, they spend the last years of the Occupation in a precarious refuge made lavish with poetry and cartography, botany and art.
In the novel’s second part, Ben, a young professor and an expert in the drama of weather and biography, meets the now sixty-year-old Jacob and his ardent and glorious Michaela at the home of a mutual friend. The quiet elation Ben senses in the older man, and Ben’s own connection to the wounding legacies of the war, kindle a fascination with Jakob and his writing, disturbing the safety of his carefully ordered world.
Winner 1997 Orange Prize for Fiction.