Making connections between the Suez Canal War in 1949 and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this novel about a British couple's disastrous marriage is told by their daughter, who has discovered her mother's diary written at the end of World War II. Ailsa Roberts, the writer of the diary, shows herself to be a vivid and intelligent young Englishwoman who is sailing with her little daughter on the Empire Glory to join her husband, a Welsh RAF sergeant stationed in Egypt, where Britain still occupies the Suez Canal Zone.
On the voyage, however, Ailsa falls for Mona, an officer's exotic wife. When the women finally disembark in Suez, they face a tumultuous world of casual British racism. Joe Roberts, Ailsa's young working-class husband, believes he is acting honorably when he tries to end his wife's friendship with Mona, but instead sets off a series of devastating consequences.