In 1837, on remote St Helena’s Island, Frenchman François Lelièvre searches for a willow beside Napoleon’s grave, a tree in which he believes Napoleon’s spirit is alive, inspiring ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood. This will grow in Akaroa, New Zealand, in a time of conflict, as the French and British compete to colonise the land. From England a young schoolteacher, Marianne, sets out on a troubled path that will lead her to the same place, looking for her own sense of liberty.
Meanwhile, a Maori of the region – Manako-uri – must face his own challenges as the newcomers plant their hopes and dreams in his land. Based on real events, lives are twined together in an intense story of adventure, love and loss. This novel explores not only a dramatic chapter of New Zealand’s foundation, but also the deep forces that drive us.