The sweeping tale of the Lanzi family is set in the backdrop of two wars. The story begins in the –until then— tranquil town of San Dona`, just north of Venice where Roberto and Luisa lived with their two sons in a modest villa near the center of town. Roberto, a chemical engineer, had recently lost his job because of the approaching war front. Luisa, a teacher by profession, stayed at home to be close to her sons, instilling them with the same discipline and moral principles which had guided all her life.
Their eldest son Riccardo, just nineteen, despite his aversion for violence, had just joined the army to defend his country. His parents, though very proud of him, were in constant fear for his life.
Their younger son, Lorenzo, was only nine years old and was at home since all the schools of the area had been closed. In fact, with the approaching front line, the city authorities, like rats on a sinking ship, had suddenly fled, leaving the town to itself.
On October 25, 1917, after the collapse of the Italian front, known as the rout of Caporetto, the war fell upon the southern plains of Veneto with unsuspected ferocity.
By early November, Italian and Austrian soldiers were entangled in murderous hand-to-hand combat in the outskirts of San Dona`, and the waters of the Piave River ran red with the blood of the youth fallen from both sides.