Kate, the book's heroine, is 40 years old, unmarried, and childless. She lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She is waiting for Simon, ex-fiancé number three, to pick up his things when a letter arrives from her mother. Thinking that it brings news of her mother's "enemies," she doesn't open it immediately. The half dozen letters she has received since she left 18 years ago were full of paranoia and admonishments to her daughter to remain in the United States, safe from the inherent dangers in South Africa, her country of birth. But this letter is different. Her mother begs her to come back to Durban to discharge her from the hospital where she has been incarcerated, supposedly for treatment of cancer. The letter awakens Kate's dormant feelings of guilt, and she decides to return to South Africa to rescue her mother.