This heart rending story starts on a hot August afternoon in the 1980s, when the body of Christaan Dudok, a Dutch businessman is found in his study after taking an overdose that has ended his life. There is no suicide note, but next to him is found a newspaper from 1942 which carries a report on the bombing of the German town of Lubeck and with it a list of names, one of which, has been highlighted.
We then move back in time and the story is told from the perspective of Christaan, who when young and working in Lubeck in 1938, meets and falls in love with the beautiful Julia Bender, a talented German engineer. From the first moment he sees her, he is irresistibly drawn to her and somehow knows that their meeting will hold great significance for him. Both Julia and her actor brother, Andreas, are talented, courageous and value their freedom, but, when Andreas flouts the authority of the Nazi regime and Julia supports him, Christaan realizes that their days together are numbered. When the authorities arrest Andreas, and Julia just manages to escape, she tells Christaan that he must leave her and return to Holland otherwise he will jeopardise her safety and his own. Although Christiaan fears he is making a mistake in leaving, he listens to Julia's pleas and allows her to persuade him to catch the next train out of Germany and return to his homeland.
This beautifully written novel moves forwards and backwards in time and, in spare, impressionistic and poetic prose the author relates what happens to Christaan after he leaves Julia. As time passes, and we follow Christaan through his life, we come to see that he simply cannot forget Julia and how his love for her lives on. This is an elegant and elegiac novel that shows us that it is not always what we do that causes us regret, but what we fail to do that can cause us even more sorrow and remorse.