Set in Jerusalem, the novel opens just after archaeologist Ella Miller asks her husband, her former mentor, to leave. When her decision is met with condemnation by friends and family, she plunges into depression and anxiety over how their six-year-old son will cope. With dense, beautiful prose, Shalev chips away at Ella's past, digging up resentments and disappointments, and presenting them sliver by sliver. Although Ella observes her son with touching detail, her focus is ultimately inward, making her a hard character to like. When she becomes involved with a lover, for instance, her self-absorption keeps her from recognizing the patterns she's repeating. Ella is known for drawing unsubstantiated parallels between the Israelites' exodus from Egypt and the flight from a major volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Thera (now Santorini); she believes societies glorify their histories, creating art and myth from disaster, leaving the reader to hope that this lovely, troubled woman will someday be able to do the same for herself.