Rachel Blaustein is an attractive but lonely old woman living in a hotel in Geneva, Switzerland. She is estranged from her daughter and an unknown quantity to her grandchildren. She discovers that she is going to die and realizes that she first needs to make peace with her daughter Marnie.
The ensuing reunion is anything but peaceful. Marnie is the mirror image of her mother, with the same blend of passion and cold steel. They hate the loss of each other, but the issues that divide them remain huge. And those issues boil down to what happened to Rachel in the war.
In 1940, Rachel, a Viennese Jew, walked 900 miles with her mother and brother from Bruxelles, Belgium, to Geneva, Switzerland, to escape from the Nazis. Along the way, Rachel stumbled into the Dunkirk evacuation, was lost, imprisoned, and released, shot at by soldiers and fighter pilots, nearly executed as a looter, and almost killed in a truck wreck. And all before her fifteenth birthday.
The deprivations that wore down her mother and brother transformed the girl Rachel into a young woman of astonishing strength -- and hardness. The final betrayal at the Swiss border forever changed her relationship with the brother she once idolized and sent her rocketing inevitably into a thirty-year collision course with her daughter.
Rachel understands that the only way into her daughter's heart lies through the children Jake and Allie. Yet those children, naïve and sheltered though they might be, have as much to teach their mother and grandmother as they have to learn about who they are and where they come from.