Anna Schoene is a golden child. Her parents, Joseph and Genevieve, were rich American expats in Shanghai before the Japanese invaded, before the war intervened.
The child of missionaries, Joseph Schoene has made his fortune on his wits; he is a man in love with China, his daughter, and with the idea of taking risks. For the young Anna, Shanghai is a magical world; she loves the city as much as her father does. But when the Japanese invade and when war comes, even Anna knows that their life in China is over.
Joseph sends his wife and daughter back to America with the promise that they will soon be reunited, but, despite imprisonment by the Japanese and the loss of much of his fortune, for decades he cannot bring himself to follow them.
Anna grows up halfway across the world from her home and her father, and it is only over the years that she gradually learns Joseph's real story the story both of his Chinese past and, finally, that of his old age in California.