Tomáš is a surgeon and works in a clinic in Prague. A few weeks ago in a small Czech town he met Theresa. Theresa works as a waitress at a local restaurant. They spend together only an hour, then he returns to Prague. Ten days later she comes to him. This unfamiliar girl awakens in him an inexplicable feeling of love, a desire to somehow help her. Theresa seems to him a child “who was put in a tarred basket and let on the river so that he could catch it on the shore of his bed.”
After living with him for a week, Teresa returns to her provincial town. Tomash is confused, does not know how to proceed: to link his life with Theresa and take responsibility for it or keep his usual freedom, to remain alone. Mother Theresa – a beautiful woman – throws her father and goes to another man. The father goes to prison, where he soon dies. Stepfather, mother, her three children from a new marriage and Teresa settle in a small apartment in a provincial Czech town.
Mother Teresa, dissatisfied with life, pushes everything on her daughter. Despite the fact that Teresa is the most capable in the class, the mother takes her from the gymnasium. Teresa goes to work in a restaurant. She is ready to work in the sweat of her face, just to earn motherly love.
The only thing that protects it from the hostile world around us is the book. The love of reading distinguishes it from others, it is, as it were, an identification sign of a secret brotherhood. Tomasch draws her attention by reading a book in a restaurant where she works.
The chain of accidents is an open book on Tomasch’s restaurant table, Beethoven’s music, number six, sets in motion a dozing feeling of love in her and gives courage to leave home and change life.
Theresa, leaving everything, without an invitation, again comes to Prague and remains to live with Tomasz.
Tomáš is struck by the fact that he so quickly decided to leave Teresa at home, acting contrary to his own principles, that no woman should live in his apartment. This he firmly adheres to for ten years after the divorce. Fearing and simultaneously wanting women, Tomash develops a certain compromise, defining it with the words “erotic friendship” – “those relationships in which there is no trace of sentimentality and neither partner encroaches on the life and freedom of another.” This method allows Tomas to keep constant mistresses and in parallel to have a lot of fleeting connections.
Aspiring to complete freedom, Tomas limits his relationship with his son only by accurate payment of alimony. Tomasz’s parents condemn him for this, break with him, remaining in demonstratively good relations with the daughter-in-law.
Tomasz is going to take care of Teresa, protect her, but he has not the slightest desire to change his way of life. He’s renting an apartment for Theresa. One of his friends – Sabina – helps Teresa get a job in the photo lab of the illustrated weekly. Gradually, Teresa learns about the betrayals of Tomasz, and this causes her jealousy. Tomas sees her torment, she feels compassion for her, but she can not stop her “erotic friendship”, she does not have the strength to overcome the craving for other women, and she does not see the need for that.
It takes two years. To muffle Teresa’s suffering from his betrayal, Tomas marries her. On this occasion he gives her a dog-bitch, which they call Karenin.
August 1968 Soviet tanks invade Czechoslovakia.
Swiss friend Tomasz – the director of one of the clinics of Zurich – offers him a place in his home. Tomas hesitates, suggesting that Teresa will not want to go to Switzerland.
Theresa spent the first week of the occupation in the streets of Prague, shooting episodes of troops’ entry, mass protest of citizens and handing over tapes to foreign journalists who almost fought over them. Once she is detained, and she spends the night in the Russian commandant’s office. She is threatened with execution, but once she is released, she again goes to the streets. During these days of testing, Teresa feels for the first time strong and happy.
The Czech leadership signs a compromise agreement in Moscow. It saves the country from the most terrible: from executions and mass exile to Siberia.
There come humiliation weekdays. Tomasz and Teresa emigrate to Switzerland.
Zurich. Tomasch works as a surgeon for his friend. Here he again meets Sabina, who also emigrated from Czechoslovakia.
In Zurich, Teresa enters the illustrated magazine and offers her photos about the Soviet occupation of Prague. She politely, but firmly denied – they are no longer interested. She is offered a job – to photograph cacti. Theresa refuses.
Theresa is all alone at home. Again, the jealousy that she inherited from her mother, along with beauty, awakens. She decides to return to her homeland, hoping in her heart that Tomash will follow her.
It takes six to seven months. Returning home one day, Tomas finds on the table a letter from Teresa, in which she reports that she is returning home, to Prague.
Tomash rejoices in his newfound freedom, enjoys the ease of being. Then he is seized with persistent...
The first feelings that he feels after returning home – the spiritual depression and desperation from the fact that he returned.
Theresa works as a barmaid at the hotel. From the weekly she was kicked out a month or two later after their return from Switzerland.
At work, during one incident, a tall man stands up for her. Later, Teresa learns that he is an engineer. Soon Teresa accepts the invitation to go to his house and enter into a love affair with him.
The days pass, the month – the engineer no longer appears in the bar. A terrible guess appears in her head – it’s a sexton. A situation was created to compromise, and then use it for their own purposes, by drawing informants into a single organization.
Sunday. Tomas and Teresa go for a walk out of town. They call in a small resort town. Tomas meets his long-time sick man, a fifty-year-old peasant from a remote Czech village. The peasant talks about his village, that there is no one to work, since people are fleeing from there. Theresa wants to go to the village, it seems to her that this is now the only saving way.
On his return from Zurich, Tomasz still works in his clinic. One day he is summoned by the head physician. He suggests that Tomash renounce his previously written political article, otherwise he will not be able to leave him in the clinic. Tomash refuses to write a penitential letter and leaves the clinic.
Tomasz works in a village hospital. A year passes and he manages to find a place in a suburban ambulatory. Here he is found by a man from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He promises Tomas to resume his career as a surgeon and scientist, but for this it is necessary to sign a statement. In this statement, Tomas should not only abandon his political article, as demanded of him two years ago, it also included words about the love of the Soviet Union, the loyalty of the Communist Party, and the condemnation of intellectuals. In order not to sign or write such statements, Tomash throws medicine and becomes a window cleaner. He, as it were, returns in the days of his youth, to the freedom of freedom, which means for him first of all freedom of love relations.
Theresa talks about the incident at the bar. She is very worried. Tomas first noticed how she changed, aged. He suddenly realizes with horror how little he has paid her attention the last two years.
Tomasz is invited to wash the windows in one apartment. There he meets his son. The people gathered in the apartment offer him to sign a petition asking for amnesty for political prisoners. Tomas does not see the point in this petition. He remembers Teresa – apart from her, nothing matters to him. He can not save the prisoners, but he can make Theresa happy. Tomas refuses to sign the paper.
It takes five years after the invasion of Soviet troops in Prague. The city has changed beyond recognition. Many friends Tomas and Teresa emigrated, some of them died. They decide to leave Prague and go to the village.
Tomas and Teresa live in a remote, all-forgotten village. Tomasch works as a truck driver, Teresa grazes calves. They finally find peace – hence they have nowhere to drive out.
Theresa is happy, she thinks that she has reached the goal: he and Tomas are together and they are alone. The joy of being is overshadowed only by the death of their only faithful friend – the Karenin dog.
Geneva. Franz lectures at the university, travels to foreign symposiums and conferences. He is married and has an eighteen-year-old daughter. Franz meets a Czech artist and falls in love with her. Her name is Sabina. This is Tomash’s friend.
Sabina draws from childhood. Immediately after graduation, she leaves home, enters the Prague Academy of Arts, and then marries an actor from one of the theaters in Prague. Soon after the untimely death of her parents, Sabina leaves her husband and begins to lead the life of a free artist.
Franz confesses to his wife that Sabina is his mistress. He wants to divorce his wife and marry Sabina.
Sabina is confused. She does not want to change anything in her life, she does not want to take any responsibility. She decides to leave Franz. Franz leaves his wife. He takes off a small apartment. He has a relationship with one of the students, but when he wants to marry again, his wife refuses to divorce him.
Sabina lives in Paris. Three years later she receives a letter from the son of Tomas, from whom he learns of the death of his father and Theresa – they died in a car accident. Sabina is suppressed. The last thread, connecting it with the past, is cut off. She decides to leave Paris.
Sabina lives in America, in California. She successfully sells her paintings, is rich and independent.
Franz joins the group of Western intellectuals and heads to the borders of Cambodia. While walking through the night Bangkok, he perishes.