The novel is set just after World War Two, in a fictitious Germany. The Allies have decided to punish the country for Nazi war crimes by forcing it to develop back in to a pre-industrial society. All the achievements of technology - railways, streets, power, ships - have been destroyed or suspended, and in the village where The Kitahara Syndrome is set, villagers are forced to farm the land with primative tools and scavenge scrap yards. Memories of German war crimes are kept alive by bizarre rituals of remembrance: villagers are forced to dress as concentration camp inmates and act out the ceremonies of torture. This is the background to the story which focuses on three characters and the strange links that bind them.