In 1938, during the Great Terror, Nina Anishkova writes “Witness,” a poem about the suffering being inflicted on the Russian people. Working secretly at night, alone in her room, she learns each line of the poem by heart, and then puts a match to the pages. Paper is dangerous, and Nina is a marked woman. If the NKVD find “Witness,” they will send her to the camps.
In London, Andrei, who had to leave Nina behind when he was forced to flee Russia, despairs at the thought that she might already be dead. Will she survive? Will the purges swallow her up?
In 1989 “Witness” is published in Russia for the first time. Andrei’s granddaughter Charlotte buys a copy in Moscow and takes it back to London. Andrei is now over ninety, and a world-famous sculptor. After refusing for years to talk about the past, he consents to tell Charlotte about his love for Nina, and the life that was stolen from them by Stalin’s regime.