During the sweltering summer of 1952, Bea Nightingale, New York schoolteacher and tamer of unruly boys, travels to Paris to bring back her wayward nephew. The city, still exhausted from the war, is filled with two groups of foreigners: young Americans ‘who called themselves “expatriates” though they were little more than literary tourists on a long visit’; and refugees and displaced persons, ‘the Europeans whom Europe had set upon’. Bea fails to save her nephew but she does discover what she has missed in her life and what she values.
Henry James’s The Ambassadors lurks in the background of this novel about Americans coming of moral age in Europe. Like James’s Strether, who makes a similar journey to Paris to save his fiancée’s son from a corrupting affair with a Frenchwoman, Bea has always lived on the edge