His father is a well-known dramatist, his mother an opera singer. But during Stalin's reign of terror in the late 1930s, both parents are harassed, proscribed. Young Alexei Berg's musical talent, however, is such that he is allowed to continue his studies. His first concert is scheduled for May 24, 1940. Two days before the concert, on his way from the dress rehearsal, Alexei arrives to find his parents being arrested. He flees, and thus begins his endless journey, through war and peace, until he lands, two decades later, in a snowbound train station in the Urals, where he relates his harrowing saga to the novel's narrator.