At the instigation of the sciolist, Toloki, the professional mourner introduced in the author's early novel Ways of Dying, takes the opportunity to ... Show synopsis At the instigation of the sciolist, Toloki, the professional mourner introduced in the author's early novel Ways of Dying, takes the opportunity to travel the world in search of new ways of mourning. He finds himself abandoned in Athens Ohio, but a chance meeting with a Halloween reveller leads him to the poor hamlet of Kilvert, home to descendants of fugitive slaves. A community of traditional quiltmakers, the people of Kilvert, and notably the Quigley family, offer Toloki hospitality while never completely coming to terms with what they regard as his shamanistic attributes. From them he learns the stories told by the quilts and the secrets held by the sycamores - ghost trees that are the carriers of memories - and he becomes aware that this is a community which strives to keep alive their past in order to validate the present. They cannot let go, for the past is all they have. And it is through the quilts and the sycamores and the messages they carry that the old story is told of the slaves in the plantations of the south and their eternal quest to escape and find their freedom, interwoven with the story of life in present-day Kilvert. It is also a time of growth for Toloki, bringing about a softening of his former austerity and enabling him to determine the path his future will take.