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A sailor named Son jumps ship near the coast of the Queen of France. He wants to swim to the pier but the sea currents make this difficult. He sees a small craft nearby and climbs aboard it, thinking it will take him to his destination, but the women who are in it go to Isle des Chevaliers. After they leave the boat, he gets out as well. He ends up at the villa, L' Arbe de la Croix, in search of food and water. He lives for a few days near the house, only sneaking in at night to get food.
In the meantime, the reader is introduced to the occupants of the villa and their individual personalities. Each has a unique history that is presented to the reader in the 'stream of consciousness' method. Valerian, the owner of the villa, has recently retired from his position at the head of a candy factory. His wife Margaret is with him. Sydney and Ondine are the black couple who look after the house and serve their employers. Jadine is Sydney's niece and she has come down to the villa to take a break and sort her life out. She is trying to decide whether or not to marry one of the three white men who are wooing her.
The reader learns about the lives of these people at the villa and witnesses their mutual conflicts. One night Margaret finds Son hiding in her closet. Sydney brings him down and surprisingly Valerian is not angry. He asks him to stay in the guesthouse and have Sydney and Ondine look after him. They are all incensed by the decision of a stranger staying as a guest, but soon Son manages to soothe everyone's nerves. A yardman (whose real name is Gideon) takes an instant liking to him, as does the washerwoman, Therese. Margaret is expecting her son and two guests to come down for Christmas but they do not turn up. On Christmas night Valerian, Margaret, Jadine, Son, Ondine and Sydney sit down for dinner together. It is a disaster as Ondine ends up having an argument with Margaret and Sydney over the firing of the help. In a moment of fury, she reveals that Margaret used to hurt Michael (her son) when he was a baby. Everyone is shocked about hearing Ondine's long kept secret and Valerian is shocked the most.
While Son was staying at the villa, he became greatly attracted to Jadine and they finally sleep together that night. After Christmas, Son leaves for New York and Jadine joins him there. They live together as lovers. Months later, Son takes Jadine to his hometown Eloe, but she is not comfortable there. When they are together again in New York, they start fighting often and after a particularly nasty fight, Jadine leaves the city to collect her things from Valerian's villa on the Caribbean isle. Sydney and Ondine are disappointed with her for running away with Son and not having any concern for them in their old age.
Jadine leaves for New York after collecting her things. She meets Alma Estee at the airport and Alma inquires about Son and whether Jadine has killed him. Son arrives in the Queen of France in his search for Jadine. He meets Gideon, Therese and Alma Estee and is told that Jadine has already left. Alma lies and tells him that Jadine had taken a flight to Paris and that she was with a white man. Son is deeply distressed by the news and wants to go to L'Arbe de la Croix to get Jadine's address.
Therese agrees to take him there. She steers the boat in the heavy fog but takes him to the opposite end of Isle des Chevaliers and asks Son to clamber over rocks to reach the shore. She wants him to join the blind horsemen who are believed to be living in the hills of the island. According to her, Jadine has lost her ancient properties and Son must forget her. Son is taken aback by her words. However, he has no choice but to leave the boat and to make it for the shore. On reaching it, he goes toward the trees and starts running. It remains unclear whether he joins the legendary horsemen or whether he succeeds in finding his love, Jadine. Toni Morrison ends the novel on this mysterious note.