The son of an English father and a Russian mother, Charlie Doig is a big man--big in stature, in spirit, and in sexual appetites. A naturalist, he roughs it around the world collecting specimens for museums. In 1914, he is on a mission for the Academy of Science in Russia when war breaks out. His pay is stopped and his companion goes off to enlist. Doig, however, has no intention of volunteering to be killed. He returns to his family's home near Smolensk and to the woman he loves, his cousin Elizaveta. At first, their home remains untouched by outside events, and the familiar ways continue. But imperial Russia is doomed, and with it all the old certainties. Trapped by the snow with Doig and Elizaveta are a motley collection of old aristocrats and two soldiers seeking refuge--one of whom, Doig fears, is a Bolshevik out to destroy them all.