1993. The war-torn Bosnian countryside. Jane Abbott, a seasoned English conflict zone photographer who is no longer easily surprised, is surprised. Stunned, in fact, to’ve come across the son of THE notorious Ingrid Heimlich—who, until her traceless disappearance twenty years ago, had been the world’s most infamous leftist terrorist. Ben Heimlich, the stranded German kid and wannabe reporter she has picked up by the roadside, is either fearless or incredibly naïve—though probably naïve—and were it not for the platoon of Serbian partisans who intercept them on their way, she’d pestered him incessantly with questions of his mother’s whereabouts.
1994. Still reeling from the horror he had seen in Bosnia—and, as ever, wondering where in the world his mother is—Ben Heimlich moves to the United States and settles in the sparkling local neighborhood and global allegory known as Hollywood. As he gets older and, eventually, more affluent, Ben realizes that, no matter how ostensibly successful he’s become, he can’t escape his lingering despair. When he meets Isabel, who’s left her own traumatic early life in Mexico behind to make a new beginning in Los Angeles, his life takes a dramatic upward turn.
Chapter after chapter, Ben and his mother’s backgrounds and personae are illuminated from a multitude of angles by, among others, a former student activist aboard a hijacked airplane on a dusty stretch of tarmac in the capital of Libya in 1971; an aging homeless actor in Los Angeles still waiting for his break in 1994; a young girl who stumbles through the smoldering ruins of Berlin in 1945; a US State Department operative who interferes with sovereign states all over South America; the involuntary teenage wife of an imperious Sinaloan drug lord who attempts to flee her gilded cage; and the ninety-something-year-old son of German immigrants who’d fought for the United States against his parents’ onetime countrymen in World War II.