Sam Kandy, born in 1899 in a poor village in the heart of Ceylon and abandoned by his family ten years later at the gates of a remote temple, resolves to make his own luck amongst the cheats and chancers of the world. When twenty years reckoning with the streets of Colombo, the docks of Sydney and the brothels of Singapore lead Sam back to his blighted birth village, he returns as a steely self-made man. He marries a nobleman's daughter and coldly pursues a life of wealth, prestige, and power.
And so begins a devastating chain of events, in which families are torn apart, fortunes are made and lost, and old ways and wants collide with modernity's new machines and money and desires. Just as Sam Kandy is called back to his roots and longs for a chance to prove himself to a people and a place that gave up on him long before, ambition, reinvention, tradition and family each demand an answer: what does it cost a man to rewrite his history?