Norman Lewis arrives in war-torn Naples as an intelligence officer in 1944. The starving population has devoured all the tropical fish in the aquarium, respectable women have been driven to prostitution and the black market is king.
Lewis finds little to admire in his fellow soldiers, but gains sustenance from the extraordinary vivacity of the Italians. There is the lawyer who earns his living bringing a touch of Roman class to funerals, the gynaecologist who "specializes in the restoration of lost virginity" and the widowed housewife who times her British lover against the clock. "Were I given the chance to be born again," writes Lewis, "Italy would be the country of my choice."