Kate Wolseley lives a rarefied life of wealth and privilege in the expatriate community. But when the Japanese take over the colony in December 1941, she’s interned in a squalid camp. Forty miles away, in Macau, Sofia Rodrigues’ suspicions are aroused when her father invites a Japanese family to dinner, an event which leads to a breach between Sofia and her controlling half-brother, Leo. Enduring cramped conditions, humiliation, disease, and starvation, Kate befriends Charles – who’s half Chinese – and they give their hearts to each other under the orchid tree. Can their love survive war and prejudice?
In December 1948, Kate returns to Hong Kong, determined to put the past behind her. Sofia dreams of leaving Macau and starting a new life, and she won’t let anyone, not even Leo, stop her. A young Englishman, James, becomes the link between Kate and Sofia. The communist-nationalist struggle in China spills over into the territory, catapulting the protagonists into the turmoil with disastrous consequences.