Everyone has gone away... We too should no longer be here.
Luanda, 1975. The Angolan War of Independence has been raging for at least a decade, but with the collapse of the Salazar dictatorship, defeat for the Portuguese is now in sight. Thousands of settlers are fleeing back to Portugal to escape the brutality of the Angolan rebels.
Rui is fifteen years old. He has lived in Luanda all his life and has never even visited the far-away homeland - although he has heard many stories. But now his family are finally accepting that they too must return, and Rui is filled with a mixture of excitement and dread at the prospect. But just as they are leaving for the airport, his father is taken away by the rebels, and the family must leave without him.
Not knowing if the father is alive or dead - or if they will ever find out what has become of him, Rui, his mother and sister try to rebuild their lives in their new home. This turns out to be a five star hotel in a quiet, seaside suburb of Lisbon, where returnee families are crammed into luxurious rooms by the dozen.
These palatial surroundings are a cruel contrast with the reality of returnee life. The hotel becomes a curious form of purgatory as the families wait to discover what will become of them - ever conscious of the fact that they are hardly welcome back in their homeland. Rui has his own personal struggle with his new life: growing up, dropping out of school, facing discrimination, and the ever-present worry over his mother's deteriorating health and his father's fate.
And then one night Rui's father returns from the dead.
Translated from the Portuguese by Ángel Gurría-Quintana