How do you survive a childhood in an orphanage, being sent to two countries for several months, where you cannot speak the language, as a teenager? How do you cope with an inflation which makes your salary for a month a day’s in less than a week, an economic depression, a civil war and 2 world wars? How do you deal with the devastation of your country by invaders, collaborators, and victors? How can you understand your forebears’ participation in a genocide of rightful citizens of your country? What happens when you realize that they have robbed you of much of your cultural and artistic heritage?
We learn about the answers to these questions by following an Austrian family on their path through the 20th century. The protagonist is a boy who tries to make sense out of the chaos and confusion created by planned de-Nazification and silence. As he begins to line up the glass splinters of history in his kaleidoscope, pictures begin to emerge that paint his family’s pathways. He begins to ask questions to complete the puzzle, but is met with confusion and silence, sometimes sullenly defiant, sometimes doleful and shameful.
As a more complete pattern emerges, so does his rage at the generation that squandered hundreds of years of music, poetry, philosophy and science. He starts an intensive dialogue with the family and outside victim survivors of Nazi terror. He is stunned by the victims’ capacity to forgive, while not forgetting; by their generous support of his growth and ascension in academic medical ranks. Their deep humanity leads him to the central question which shows him the way out of his rage to forgiveness: "What would you have done differently as the regime of war and terror reigned? Walk in your family’s shoes!”
The struggle to answer this question is painful and pronounced, but ultimately allows him to make his peace with the generation before him. He has a deeper understanding of how they came into chaos, and survived it. He begins to admire their will to live, against all the odds; to tear down what is evil, when given some aid and sustenance. And he strongly identifies with their dedication to do it right this time, and on their own terms.