Preparing to leave for work one morning, Youssef al-Firsiwi finds a mysterious letter has been slipped under his door. In a single line, he learns that his only son, Yacine, whom he believed to be studying engineering in Paris, has been killed in Afghanistan fighting with the Islamist resistance. His comfortable life as a leftist journalist shattered, Youssef loses both his sense of smell and his sense of self. He and his wife divorce and he becomes involved with a new woman. He turns for support to his friends Ahmad and Ibrahim, themselves enmeshed in ever-more complex real estate deals and high-profile cases of kidnapping. Meanwhile Youssef struggles to reconnect with his father, who, having lost his business empire and his sight, spends his days guiding tourists around ancient Roman ruins. Shuttling between Marrakech, Rabat and Casablanca, Youssef begins to rebuild his life. Yet he is pursued by his son's spectral presence and the menace of religious extremism, in this novel of shifting identity and cultural and generational change.