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After the defeat of Spain's Republicans, José Garcés was in a French prison camp. To entertain and inspire his fellow prisoners, he tells the story of becoming a man in 1919, the year he realized that learning to live is the same as learning to die. His stiff and demanding father loses a fortune in German war bonds, takes a job in Caspe, and leaves José on his own in Zaragoza to finish high school. Isabel, a maid he meets in a cinema who shares his ideas of free love, comes under the influence of El Checa, a teacher who leads a doomed revolt.
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