Spring, 1951. The Cold War. Two fresh college graduates renew a childhood acquaintance on a long train ride home to Indianapolis. Embers ignite. Mary Grace Stark is about to embark on her first State Department posting in Moscow. Ward Wangert III reluctantly returns to his family business, after turning down a job offer from He Who Remains Classified, a powerful friend at the C.I.A. A few months later, while supervising a bomb shelter project, Ward receives an emergency summons from Moscow. He travels behind the Iron Curtain to rescue Mary from a diplomatic debacle. The couple decides to wed, even though Mary won’t say who fathered her unborn child.
Ward and Mary produce two more sons and struggle to maintain their standing in the deteriorating rust-belt city of Indianapolis. Their family saga, which spans the latter half of the American Century, is a tragicomic mix of upper-crust romance, sibling warfare, boarding school drama, and C.I.A. skullduggery.