In Tworki, a village just southwest of Warsaw, there is a psychiatric hospital and in that hospital, the patients and their caretakers are hidden from the war just outside their iron gates. Our hero, Jurek, answers an ad in the paper for a job there and finds himself keeping the books alongside a knockout strawberry blonde named Sonia. They and their group of friends—vital young people like Marcel, an initial rival for Jurek; Olek, Sonia’s chosen love; and Janka, with whom Jurek becomes involved—do their jobs, picnic on the weekends, and dance in the gardens on the grounds of the hospital.
Jurek speaks often of, and even in, verse, whether he is talking to his friends or in letters to a distant and admiring cousin. He and his friends live lives that defy the discord and destruction of the war in Europe, striving to rediscover or save whatever beauty they can. Much of this beauty is embodied by Sonia, who is beloved of all the friends and patients at the asylum.
But the revitalizing spring they all hope will come for Poland is not to arrive this year. Despite the relative safety of their odd surroundings, the world and the war soon come for the friends. Olek’s absences are longer and unexplained. Marcel is not what he seems, and he and his wife mysteriously disappear, she says, to the gas. And the perfection that Sonia embodies cannot ultimately be kept, by the friends, by the nation, or even by Sonia herself.