After a gentleman's education in Europe, landscape artist Michel Jean Cazabon returns home to Trinidad in 1848 in time for his mother's death and discovers the changes to his island since the emancipation of slaves. Plantation owners and colonial administrators still hold the power, leaving freed blacks and 'coloureds' not quite free; the idealism of revolutionary Paris now seems a dream away and his French wife and children are waiting to join him on the island. Michel Jean must first deal with a rift with father and brothers, and then placate Josie, the loving, feisty, seductive girl he was closest to as a growing boy. The busy working artist - even though he's not white - makes friends with the governor and English colonial settlers and secures commissions and painting lessons, but his sensual desires always threaten to compromise his prospects. His career may prosper, but he is more worried about his white wife's reaction to his family secrets of a mixed heritage, which his own father and mother - and a corrupted colonial island - have kept hidden.