Mark Bryant is a young English academic, a teacher of German, who goes to Germany in 1968 hoping to be immersed in the culture and language. Instead he finds himself in a position as a social worker looking after ex-prisoners of a special kind: stateless people from eastern Europe forced to go to Germany as slave labourers or concentration camp victims during World War II. The work is difficult and even dangerous, but Mark matures in trying to help those inarticulate men. His conservative political views are shaken up by his experiences. He also has to choose between the almost Platonic love for Ulrike and the exciting erotic attraction of Alice. The novel has a shock ending.