This novel opens with the protagonist, Albert Fraser, a 16-year-old Canadian volunteer, at the front during the battle of the Somme in 1916. He is severely wounded, shipped to England to recover, and then sent home to Princeton, British Columbia. Over the next few years, he makes living painting houses until the Great Depression makes him a homeless wanderer. He ends up in a work camp building roads for twenty cents a day. As the Depression deepens, he meets a friend, Henderson, and they become involved with the Communist movement. After an altercation with the police during a protest march, he goes underground and eventually finding solace hiding in the Yukon Territory living with a native couple. After a year he becomes restless and, adopting a new name, Alex Johnson (after the couple’s dead son), he leaves and becomes impassioned by the struggle of the Spanish Civil War. He volunteers again joining the International Brigades and fights on the side of the Republicans against Franco and the Nationalists. In a chance encounter, he meets his beautiful cousin, Magdalena-Rose, a native of Spain. After a rocky start, they return to Canada, marry, and settle into a quiet domestic life in Vancouver.
Throughout the novel there is a consistent theme of an individual perpetually struggling to find his way. Through his wandering, Al seeks to discover his own identity while trying to make sense of the world. Hutton has written an engaging and thoughtful story set in the early decades of the tumultuous 20th century. In some ways it is an oft-told tale but here worth reading about again.