The story opens in the streets of war-torn Warsaw immediately following World War II. It is said by the narrator, who at first remains unidentified, that the streets held a few stragglers returning home to look "for lost homes, lost faces." Other parts are set in a prison and the large fortress-like estate of the character called Joseph Whitehead.
The story begins in the levelled ruins of a ghetto in post WWII Poland.It is; dusty, quite, empty, with casual homicide and corruption everywhere. It then fast forwards a few decades. The estate is located in modern Britain, near London. It is intentionally set in city of international finance, representing a materialistic modern world. Part of the story also takes place in the mind of Mamoulian and in the emptiness of “hell.”