Story = dramatic interracial romance in Alabama 1961.
Introduction = "Historical Background," brief review of slavery, the Civil War, the Jim Crow days and the beginning Civil Rights movement.
Main characters = Leif, a 21-year-old idealistic Swede, and Hailee, a dark complected, very beautiful 20-year-old woman. Leif is on a one year visit to the U.S.. Hailee works in a cafeteria on the Redstone Arsenal military base outside Huntsville, Alabama.
Chapters 1 - 20 = Leif sees Hailee, and is immediately enchanted by her, but due to Southern segregation, she is forbidden fruit. She gives him some indications that she would like to meet him also, but is too frightened by the possible consequences. A series of dramatic and heart wrenching attempts by Leif to meet her culminates in a disastrous first date where they are nearly killed in a car chase as they are pursued by a gang of young Southern whites. It scares Hailee so much that she decides to break off their budding relationship completely. Months go by in emotional turmoil as Leif becomes obsessed with his frustrated desire for Hailee.
He is relocated to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, for two months, which gives him a desperate hope that he can convince Hailee to come and be with him there. He manages to “integrate” himself into the black society of the town, and makes close friends with a number of male blacks. In spite of still pining for Hailee, he has a couple of unsatisfactory one night stands with women of mixed race, and comes to realize that his relentless longing for Hailee has to do with her very dark complexion. Now, “nothing else will do.” It shocks and embarrasses him, and he has difficulty reconciling himself with it. He has always been intellectually convinced that discrimination on the base of skin color is morally unacceptable and indicates prejudice and ignorance.
He writes several letters to Hailee, declaring his love for her and asking her to come to Chambersburg so that they can be together. For weeks, there is no answer. But finally, he receives a letter that says that she would very much like to be with him also, but she can't just leave everything in her life to be with a man she doesn't really know. Leif's final hope is crushed.
However, just a few days before he is to return to Sweden, she calls and invites him to meet her in Washington, where she will visit a cousin. Their meeting is full of extreme emotional conflicts as well as peak experiences. Hailee tells Leif that she recently married another man, and is now pregnant with his child. Nevertheless, she wants to spend one night with him. Their time together turns out to be an intense, unforgettable experience for both of them.
By this time, the thoughtful reader ought to realize that Hailee is in Leif's mind an ikon. An ikon of the perfectly beautiful, immensely desirable and highly passionate woman. (Think Aphrodite of the Greeks.) He does not realize it himself, since this is essentially a religious impulse, and Leif is of the opinion that all religion is nothing but ancient superstition that we can just ignore. To elevate a woman to a divine “pedestal” because of her color would intellectually seem very prejudiced and nonsensical to Leif's rational thinking.
The psychological angles of the story grow steadily more important, and ought to raise some intriguing questions in the reader about the nature of the fears and hatreds that so many white Southerners felt at the thought of racial integration. What part of those feelings were rational, and what parts were psychological projection, denial and a religiously inspired connection between sin and lust? (There is even a “secondary” ikon – a car! Maybe some astute readers will recognize that)
Epilogue = brief (3 pages) covering Leif's feelings as he leaves for Sweden and contemplates his life there, forever apart from Hailee. His chances of ever meeting another woman who looks like her in Sweden seem practically nil. (An ending that leaves wide open a continuation of the story by Leif returning to the U.S.!)