This novel takes the reader from contemporary Vienna to Melbourne, from the survivors of the Holocaust to the generations that follow. It is the story of a woman’s self-discovery, her growing inner strength, and her understanding of her past.
Ella is Jewish, born in the 1960’s in Leopoldstadt, once a ghetto in Vienna, but has no sense of her background. Her undemonstrative mother is unwilling to talk about the past and her father, a survivor of the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, died shortly after her birth. Locked in an unsatisfying marriage to Richard, and with few ties to the wider society, she finds comfort in Vienna’s welcoming cafés and in a long-term love affair with her childhood non-Jewish sweetheart, geologist Luke.
When Richard is offered a promotion in Australia, she reluctantly joins him with their youngest son. In the outer suburbs of Melbourne, she struggles to find her footing in the dissimilar culture. To cope with her turmoil, she drifts back to her scattered memories and attempts to weave them together.
She decides to sell her mother’s old home in Leopoldstadt to developers and when demolishers find a portfolio of her father’s paintings in the study, one painting is thought to be valuable. This discovery will shape her future.
Meanwhile, on the death of his mother, a horrified Luke discovers documents revealing his grandparents’ roles as guards in a concentration camp. His guilt leads him to immerse himself in the study of Judaism and later, to even considers conversion. During a visit to an Australian university to present a paper on geoscience, Ella and Luke meet and he tells her of his guilt.
Finally, she breaks her ties with her husband and then Luke. She moves on discover more about her heritage, and to pass on to her children what she believes is rightfully theirs.