James Wilson, the orphaned son of Italian immigrants, is a jaded professional living in modern-day Melbourne. He has grown up with a detached interest in his Italian background, filtered through romantic notions of the family’s chateau in Rufino, the story of a painting by the surrealist artist Giorgio de Chirico that vanished during the Nazi art thefts of World War II, and the exotic letters from his bohemian cousin Martin.
It is one of these letters—along with a chance encounter with a young woman, Gabriella—that changes his ambivalence to intrigue and prompts a search that takes him to Italy. His quest soon becomes a last chance for redemption and rescue for the house at Rufino, for himself and Gabriella, and for his entire family.
James’s tale is interwoven with episodes from the life of his aunt Caterina in pre- and post-war Italy—and the thread that links the parallel stories is de Chirico’s most enigmatic painting, The Nostalgia of the Infinite.