It is the summer of 1839. A 19-year-old boy sets out to be a man. He chooses the sea, or it chooses him, because it is a place where men who love as he does can escape society's pronouncements upon them. The boy unknowingly begins a classic hero's journey of self-discovery – travels 'there,' discovers his task is a deeply personal one, then returns 'home' to find home is not where he wants to be anymore.
The South Pacific, 1842. These are powder-keg times, and in the midst of French Imperial gun boat diplomacy, Redburn has had enough of the sea. He draws a reluctant Toby into an adventure, and in the process loses something more valuable to him than his own life.
1843. No lost soul is born into the world, but the world makes it so. Redburn must find Toby, nothing else matters, and on three ships of contrasts - well-governed, and hopeless - he thinks of only getting to land, and looking for the man he loves.
November 1843 to February 1844. In probably the greatest same-sex love story ever told, one man's soul is redeemed by an act of self-sacrificing love, while all the rest are damned by a single man's hate.
1844. In the spring Redburn leaves Peru for New York on a warship. He has nothing, and feels like a failure. Worst of all is the loss he leaves behind him in the Pacific – his husband is dead, and Toby is lost and presumably long buried. What awaits him in the fall when he arrives back 'home,' to a place he has not been for four years? There he must consider what his brother wants for him, against how Redburn might honor the noblest sacrifices of the men who love him have made.
1851. Redburn is a success. Guided by a wily critic, he has seen his sea novels become popular. However, his relationship with him is troubled, and he feels 'love' may not be in his patron's heart. Against this backdrop he begins writing his first 'land novel' and conjures up a character named Pierre. This fictional young man faces many of the same pressures and difficulties as his creator. Unfortunately for both, reality comes crashing home in heartbreaking ways.