Hitler marches through Czechoslovakia and Poland while, in Italy, fascist black shirts wield power. The rest of Europe waits to find out if Mussolini will follow Germany into war. Against this unsettled background, Count Vincenzo Di Tomasi's student son, Enzo, dies in a Padua street brawl. His father refuses to accept the official verdict of accidental death and, fearing for the safety of his English wife, Alice and his younger son, Beppe, he sends them to England to stay with relatives. After their departure, Vincenzo joins the Italian partisans and becomes romantically involved with the enigmatic Livia Carduccio. When an assassination attempt on Mussolini fails, the Padua Cell is disbanded, and Vincenzo is arrested as a political prisoner and exiled to the barren south of Italy. In England, nine-year-old Beppe resents having to change his name to Joe. He hates his English cousins, who taunt him about his Italian accent. Getting little comfort from his mother, still grieving for her eldest son, his only ally is his grandfather. The unhappy boy dreams of being reunited with his father but how can he know that it will be decades before that dream becomes a reality?