Though a stroke has left her mute, the story Hazel MacPherson has to share is unforgettable. As a talented nurse in the early 1950s, she went north to Moose Factory to help fight the epidemic of tuberculosis that was ravaging the Cree and Inuit peoples. Each week the boat brought new patients from the James Bay, Hudson Bay, and Nunavik communities to the little hospital. It was a desperate undertaking, fraught with cultural and language difficulties that hampered the urgent, sometimes reckless, efforts of the medical staff. But Hazel is soon distracted from the tensions of the hospital by an enigmatic drifter named Gideon Judge, an itinerant umbrella mender searching for the Northwest Passage. From her own hospital bed, the older Hazel struggles to pass on to her grandniece the harrowing tale of her past in the North, including the fate of Gideon and the heartbreaking secrets she left behind.