Kurt Krausmann, a recently bereaved Frankfurt doctor, is persuaded to join his friend, wealthy benefactor Hans Makkenroth, on a humanitarian mission to the Comoros. The journey helps him begin to confront his loss, but soon misfortune strikes again: the boat he and Hans are travelling in is hijacked in the Gulf of Aden and the men are taken hostage.
Held in a remote hideout, the prisoners suffer harsh conditions and the brutality of their guards; self-styled warriors, ex-army captains and even poets drawn to banditry through poverty or opportunism.
When the group decamps to a lawless desert region and Hans is taken away, Kurt sinks deeper into despair. But fellow inmate Bruno, a French ethnologist who has been travelling Africa for 40 years, attempts to show Kurt another side to the wounded yet defiant continent he has taken to his heart.