When her father dies, Sun Tieng visits his estranged brother, Heng Souk. Yet her frail, elderly uncle, a Vietnamese War hero, is very different from her tough and testing father. When she discovers in his house a notebook written by American POW, Ephraim Luther, detailing his torture by the prison commandant she is startled by what she learns.
Meanwhile, Thomas Allen, still reeling from the death of his daughter and the breakup of his marriage, is told that the man he always called Dad was not his father. His mother gives him a batch of letters she still has from the ‘real’ father, Jefferson Carlisle. Their tragic love story prompts Thomas to find out why his mother’s ‘greatest love’ never returned to her after the Vietnam War.
His search leads him to the notorious prison ‘the Citadel’, and to Sun and her uncle. Despite the hostility of her brutal husband and mother, Sun is drawn to Thomas. Aware that the fate of Thomas’ father is revealed in Ephraim’s notebook, she is torn between helping Thomas in his search and the damaging effect revealing what is in the notebook will mean for them.