Jakob Beer is rescued from his hiding place in a swamp in Poland by Athos, a Greek geologist, who adopts the child. He stays hidden in Athos' house in Greece until the end of World War II, and they decide to emigrate to Canada. Over the years, Jakob attempts to integrate in society and cope with the loss of his family that he barely knew at the hands of the Nazis. Athos and his friends become Jakob's family and help understand the world around him. His memories of his parents and sister slowly unfold through the years. The work he does with geology, poetry, music, and translation help him to find the connections to his past.
"I tried to embroider darkness, black sutures with my glinting stones sewn safe and tight, buried in the cloth: Bella's intermezzos, Athos's maps, Alex's words, Maurice and Irena. Black on black, until the only way to see the texture would be to move the whole cloth under the light." (164)Even after his death, Jakob helps others understand the loss of their parents. Though his parents survived the Holocaust, Ben, who was born in Canada after the war, has difficulty communicating with his parents, and doesn't cope with their passing until after going through Jakob's work in Greece.
Anne Michaels creates characters that impress the reader through their faults--their inability to express themselves is what shapes them. Her skill as a poet shines through the prose as the paragraphs become almost musical.