Born to poor peasants, Marco is taken to North Africa with his older brothers and sisters. When the Second World War breaks out, he and his sister Irene are sent to a Fascist-run colony along the Adriatic Sea coastline. There, the boy witnesses the military discipline and indoctrination forced upon the boys from North Africa, some of whom are primary school age. Later, when his parents return to Italy, Marco has the opportunity to see for himself the atrocities of war, when his sister Irene is shot dead by the Fascists and one of his friends is killed by the Germans in retreat. The boy's faith in God diminishes but is never extinguished.