Doctrow took place in the early 1900's in the state of New York. There are two main families in the novel, one consisting of Mother, Father and their little boy who are part of the upper class society in New Rochelle. The other family consists of Mameh, Tateh and their little girl Sha; a Jewish family who live in the lower East Side in the beginning of the novel. These two familes meet many new intresting people throughout the novel that influence their lives greatly. In this novel the narrator is anonomyous but left up to the reader it could be the upper class little boy, Tateh's little girl or perhaps both. .
The novel opens at the house of the upper class family. Mother's Younger Brother falls in love with a famous woman at that point in time whose name was Evelyn Nesbit. Her husband Harry Thaw had been charged with the murder of her ex-husband Stanford White. The famous magician Harry Houdini's car breaks in front of the family's house, and he pays them an unexpected visit. At this point in the story Father decides to leave on a trip to the Arctic. .
The immigrant family in the Lower East Side are suffering from poverty. The famous Evelyn Nesbit visits the Lower East Side, meets Tateh's little girl and becomes friends with her leading her to visit her regularly. Evelyn's new little friend becomes ill and she decides to care for her. Obsessed with his love for this beautiful woman, Mother's Younger Brother begins to follow Evelyn everywhere. While visiting the immigrant family, Evelyn goes with them to a socialist meeting, and she is criticized by the speaker about her sexuality and being in a capitalistic society. Back in the upperclass family, Mother finds a baby buried alive in thier backyard; she finds out it is a black washwoman named Sarah's baby. .
Tateh and his daughter leave New York City and travel to Massachuttes. Evelyn and Mother's Younger Brother start to see a lot of one another.