Set in New York City in 1949, the novel follows Holocaust survivor Herman Broder. Throughout the war he survived in a hayloft, taken care of by his non-Jewish, Polish servant, Yadwiga, whom he later takes as his wife in America. Meanwhile, he has an affair with another Holocaust survivor, Masha. To Yadwiga, he poses as a traveling book-salesman despite the fact he is simply a ghost writer for a corrupt rabbi. He wanders about New York with a constant paranoia and perpetual desperation, made more complicated when his first wife from Poland, Tamara, who was thought to be killed in the Holocaust, comes to New York.