When Quentin's lover announces that she's leaving him for his brother and moving to America, he replies spontaneously that he too is leaving the country: but going where? To Tahas, he improvises: "a city whose very name sounded exotic." Following through on this impulse, Quentin soon finds a job exactly where he claimed to be going . . . and with his departure from familiar Europe, finds himself aimless in a desert country equal parts dull and dreamlike, enclosed in "the Ring" to which the wealthy expatriate community is confined by its own xenophobia. Stifled within this community and alienated without, Quentin must decide what sort of life is worth living—safe and aloof, or engaged with the deprivation and even danger of what lies beyond the Ring.