The past is another country and we are all its exiles. Banished forever, we look back in fascination and wonder at this mysterious land. Who were the people who populated it?
Almost two hundred years ago, Abraham, an illiterate urchin, scavenges on a Suffolk beach and dreams of running away to sea... Naomi, a seventeen-year-old seamstress, sits primly in a second class carriage on the train from Sussex to London and imagines a new life in the big city... George, a private soldier of the 50th Regiment of Foot, marries his Irish bride, Annie, in the cathedral in Manchester and together they face married life under arms. Now these people exist only in the bare bones of registers and census lists but they were once real enough. They lived, loved, felt joy and fear, and ultimately died. But who were they? And what indissoluble thread binds them together?
Simon Mawer's compelling and original novel puts flesh on our ancestors' bones to bring them to life and give them voice. He has created stories that are gripping and heart-breaking, from the squalor and vitality of Dickensian London to the excitement of seafaring in the last days of sail and the horror of the trenches of the Crimea. There is birth and death; there is love, both open and legal but also hidden and illicit. Yet the thread that connects these disparate figures is something that they cannot have known - the unbreakable bond of family.