The story of Michael Berg, a German lawyer who, as a teenager in the late 1950s, had an affair with an older woman, Hanna, who then disappeared only to resurface years later as one of the defendants in a war crimes trial stemming from her actions as a concentration camp guard late in the war. He alone realizes that Hanna is illiterate and may be concealing that fact at the expense of her freedom.
In April of 1945, Germany stands at the brink of defeat with the Russian Army closing in from the east and the Allied Expeditionary Force attacking from the west. In Berlin, capital of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler proclaims that Germany will still achieve victory and orders his generals and advisers to fight to the last man. When the end finally does come, and Hitler lies dead by his own hand, what is left of his military must find a way to end the killing that is the Battle of Berlin, and lay down their arms in surrender.
A Jewish woman named Jettel Redlich flees Nazi Germany with her daughter Regina, to join her husband, Walter, on a farm in Kenya. At first, Jettel refuses to adjust to her new circumstances, bringing with her a set of china dishes and an evening gown. While Regina adapts readily to this new world, forming a strong bond with her father’s cook, an African named Owuor.