The novel opens with a man who receives a mysterious poem, and we learn that this man is dying a slow, agonizing death from gangrene of the leg. He will recall his past to a silent witness, a figure called only “writer,” and his story of war and romance will be intimately linked to the troubled past century of Italy. The narrator refers to himself in the third-person as Tristano, thereby transforming into a character in his own story. He recounts his experience as a soldier during the occupation of Greece by Italian and German fascists. Tristano witnesses the murder of Greek civilians by a German soldier and then immediately, by instinct, shoots the soldier; the Greeks revolt. Tristano has served as their catalyst. He is rescued by a Greek woman, Daphne, and will go on to fight with the Greek Resistance, return to Italy, and fight in the Italian Resistance.