Rudolf leaves his comfortable origins in Delft by ship for Java to help run the family's estates there.
He moves from plantation to plantation, attempting to understand the ways of the local peoples, their version of Islam and their relationship to their land.
On a visit to the capital, Jakarta, he falls in love with a teenage girl, Jenny, who he courts surreptitiously via his sister, with grave consequences for the reality of their relationships.
Eventually they marry, and make a hard colonist-couple's life theirs, bear, lose and raise children, before Jenny on her visit to the home country discovers all the comforts of which she has been deprived in Java.
Back at the plantation homestead, as the back-breaking work of establishing and maintaining business takes its toll on Rudolf, Jenny becomes estranged from him, and the bitter resentments of relatives eat at her until a terrible solution is achieved.