Erneste works in the restaurant of a grand hotel in Giessbach in Switzerland. He is the 'perfect waiter', a model of order in every way, and his private life seems to embody the qualities he brings to his job. But inwardly this polite and dignified man is in the grip of a violent passion, a passion aroused many years before in the late 1930s when he fell in love with a young waiter, Jakob. For Jakob the affair was just a fling, a fleeting step on the way to better things. One day, when Erneste finds Jakob in flagrante with a great German writer, Julius Klinger, it was all over. Jakob fled Nazi-dominated Europe for a new life in America with Klinger, and Erneste's heart was broken. He spends the next thirty years becoming what had previously only been a role - the 'perfect waiter'. The novel opens decades later, when Erneste receives a letter from America from Jakob who asking him to make an appeal to Klinger for money. Klinger, who had returned to Europe after the war, refuses to help, and in a short time Erneste receives dramatic news of Jakob which threatens his memories of the great love of his youth. Moving skillfully between two time periods, this elegantly written, cinematic novel is rich in tension and poignancy.