Ursule hasn't been dealt a great hand of cards by life. Sold by her peasant parents to a monster of a man in Paris, she has come to accept being brutalised and abused. When he discovers her diary notes about a young French soldier she has met in a park, she becomes a fugitive, on the run for her life. And if things couldn't get any worse, the Paris in which he is hunting her is a Paris under siege by the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian War.
On the face of it Dexter has had rather more luck, but only up to a point. He emerges as the only survivor after a US Air Force transport aircraft is shot down in a remote corner of south-east Asia during the Vietnam war. He is trapped by an uncrossable river on one side and unclimbable mountains on the other, and he has only the decomposing bodies of his comrades and his colonel for company. But his luck seems to be running out after he realises he has been detected by a local, who shows every sign of being a member of the Viet Cong.
Father Dante Corsini is a 65 year old world-weary priest in modern Palermo, in Sicily. He has come to doubt every reason he ever had for becoming a priest and is regarded with deep suspicion by the church authorities. And then his life is turned upside-down and he finds himself being hunted by the Mafia. Even in 2015 this is as good as a death-warrant, and to make matters worse he realises that for the first time he has something more important than his life to lose.
Three stories from three different places, widely separated in space and time. And three utterly compelling central characters, who have much in common as they seek to escape the circumstances in which they find themselves and somehow carve out a better future. There's a balloon on the front cover of the book, and the prologue recounts a missed balloon flight by the author in Scotland. The title is also a fairly clear hint at an aeronautical theme. That's about as far as we should take an account of the key connection between the three stories. Their other links can be revealed more freely. The three characters conspire with beautiful writing and a wonderful sense of place and time to immerse the reader in their very different settings. The interludes between the stories bring us briefly back to the author's world, and the epilogue draws the strands together in a deeply satisfying way. This is a book we would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone looking for an excellent, and rather unusual, read.