Lowell Townley, a New York City high school English teacher, decides that he has had it with his personal life. His impending separation and divorce from his wife, Carol and the loss of his three children Mandy, Teddy and Sonia has driven him to the brink.
He decides to take a one-year leave from his New York City teaching job and when the school year ends, he books passage on a ship that takes him to Mombasa, Kenya and then on to Nairobi by rail.
He meets other expatriates at the school; some have come from Australia, New Zealand, London, the UK and Canada. He misses his three children terribly.
This story takes place after Kenyas independence in the 1960s. The boys he teaches have an extraordinary opportunity to be educated in Osotos Nairobi Central School. It is funded by a British dowager who has given him the freedom to develop and expand the school.
He is teaching Osotos nephew Ron and meets Rons mother, Njila, a New York trained doctor who now lives and works in the bush country of Kenya. She takes him to visit her mother in her village and explains how she learned medicine as a little girl by helping her midwife mother deliver babies. She also explains that her grandfather was a medicine man.
Lowell falls in love with Njila. At the end of the story, Njila tells him he must go home to his children for a year and if there is still love between them a year later, they can consider marriage. Dr. Njila volunteers in the Biafran War and Lowell prepares to leave Kenya for one year, hoping to marry her after this time has passed.
As he faces the prospect of returning to the United States, things take an unexpected and dramatic turn.