The sweeping story of the Perlmutter family opens with the moment when Lev, the assimilated, cultured German Jewish father at the center of this saga, enlists to fight in World War I, leaving behind his beautiful gentile wife Josephine and their children Franz and Vicki. Moving between Lev's and Josephine's viewpoints, Part I focuses on Lev's life-changing experiences on the Eastern Front, where he becomes involved with a local Jewish woman in the poor village where he is stationed. It is the kind of love which renders the privileged life at home, when he returns, a pale aftermath by comparison with the depths of sensuality which he experienced during the war. Part II, which takes place in 1927-1928, picks up in Berlin when the Perlmutter children are young adults grappling with their own set of questions-- Franz is drawn into the charismatic brown shirt movement, and is struggling with his unexpressed homosexuality; Vicki is drawn to the arts, jazz, the everything new; this wonderfully fetching character bobs her hair and falls in love with a young man who wants to take her to Palestine. Unlike most historical novels of this kind, The Empire of the Senses is not about the Holocaust but rather about the brew that leads to it; we see how the Perlmutters are pulled in different directions by the poles of their identities in this complex period (is Lev German or Jewish? What about his children?); and how such a catastrophe was unimaginable to ordinary people like Lev and his wife.