The story begins in 1952. Claire Pendleton is newly married. She arrives in Hong Kong with her husband, Martin. Claire admits that she doesn't love Martin but, at age 27, she wanted to get away from her home and her bitter mother who complained about everything.
Bored and in need of additional income, Claire gets a job teaching piano to Locket Chen, the daughter of the wealthy Victor Chen and his wife, Melody. After one lesson, a trinket from the Chen's falls into Claire's purse. When it's not noticed, she begins a period of petty thievery from the Chens. This eventually results in the Chens mistakenly firing their servant for the thefts.
The story flashes back to June, 1941, the period before the war and centers on Trudy Liang, a Eurasian and Will Truesdale, an Englishman who is new to Hong Kong. They begin an affair and Will moves through the Hong Kong society as the war approaches.
Back in 1941, Claire meets Will, as she is celebrating her twenty eighth birthday. Will is age forty-three. They begin seeing more and more of each other and begin an affair.
One day Claire is at the beach with her husband and wearing a head scarf that she had stolen from Melody Chen. Unexpectedly, they run into the Chens and Melody tells her that she has a scarf just like it. Claire wonders if Melody figured out that she stole it.
Events move slowly. The Japanese take over Hong Kong and people do what they must to survive. Some people do things that they must hide when the war is over.
Claire and Will continue their affair and then she learns something about his actions in the war that changes everything.
The author is asking if love is enough to conquor all.
The story was an interesting look back at the two moments in history but the characters were unappealing and I found myself looking for some redeeming traits but in the end, I didn't care about their outcome.
The author is a talented writer and the story was a nice diversion.