The story is set against a backdrop of destruction in Europe during and after World War II. Much of the early action takes place in Warsaw and other areas of Poland. The opening chapters describe the South Polish prison camp where the children's father, Joseph Balicki, has been sent. The novel then switches to Warsaw under the Nazi occupation, where Joseph has returned to hunt in vain for his splintered family. The children's experiences living on their own in Warsaw provide further glimpses of the war-torn city. The Warsaw uprising of 1944 and the virtual destruction of the old city are vividly described. The locale shifts during the last two thirds of the book as the children journey to Switzerland to find their parents. As the book progresses, Serraillier paints a vivid portrait of western Poland, Berlin, and rural Germany in the aftermath of the war, depicting the long lines of migrating refugees, refugee camps, soup kitchens, cities devastated by bombing, and finally the beauty of Switzerland unscarred by the war, where the family's reunion finally occurs.
(The entire section is 176 words.)