One of childhood's worst nightmares comes true in this gritty first novel: While their parents go exploring, two small children take a nap in an Alpine meadow--only to wake up orphans in a world full of strangers. Moved from a Munich orphanage by their Aunt Charity, who was located after a protracted search, Con and Lordie enter a new life in which security and comfort are largely absent. Charity is a drifter and a drunk, pretty enough to attract a series of ``uncles'' but too unstable to hold down a job. Led from one living situation to another in the Chicago area before coming to a tenuous roost in a dingy South Side apartment, Con and Lordie rely on each other for support, creating their own fantasy world with its separate language, a pidgin German-English. When Charity (having changed her name to Cherry) periodically hits bottom, she takes it out on her charges, leaving physical and psychological scars that barely heal before she batters them anew, but as they age they toughen and become more rebellious. Con gains a boyfriend in a black neighbor, who brings her to a dynamic blind ex-con seeking to reclaim the 'hood for his people, and both she and Lordie find refuge in his plans and dreams until he is gunned down. Eventually, Cherry, raving and debilitated, has to be institutionalized; with the aid of a wealthy family friend, Con and Lordie begin to make a fresh start in Boston, until Cherry comes back to them, and a battle to break free from her tyranny ends in her death. A moving portrait--acid-etched and bleakly real--of a severely dysfunctional family, although its fragmentary nature makes it seem more scrapbook than well-integrated fiction.