Vilnius, the historic Lithuanian capital, is a city which for the last three hundred years has been fought over and occupied at various periods by Poland, Russia and Germany. In the first half of the twentieth century it is populated almost entirely by foreigners with a Catholic Polish majority and a large Jewish minority. The Lithuanians want it back and will co-operate with any outside power promising to achieve this end.
A clandestine love affair, which began in 1919 between two young members of disparate families has disastrous consequences. A vicious attack on the boy forces the girl and her brother to move quickly from Vilnius to join relatives in London. The lives of the Wolowski and Milowitz families in Vilnius are buffeted and then shattered by political events in Europe beyond their control.
In both cities they struggle in their very different circumstances to endure the actual historical events surrounding and including the Second World War, when the extraordinary becomes chillingly normal. At significant points they are linked by a fifteenth century Renaissance painting, Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Couple. A chance encounter in London reconnects them.
Their story moves between Vilnius and London and culminates in the journeys made by the survivors. It ends where it began – in Vilnius.