In July 1904 a big ocean liner is docked in Antwerp, ready to start its journey to New York. While people come and go on the ship, a lady in a white evening dress is able to board the ship unnoticed. Not quite unnoticed, however – due to her fabulous dress and her beauty, some people do notice her appearance, but don’t immediately question her presence.
When on board, the mysterious lady, named Valentina, is helped by Jan Bartels, an old childhood friend of hers and officer on board the ship.
Having lost her two-year-old son to an accident and caught in a marriage with a substantially older man, she no longer can bear the pain and runs away to find a new way of life.
While on the ship, Valentina encounters all kinds of different people, and everybody has a story to tell – that is to say, there is always more to the person than the human eye can see. Both for Valentina as well as for some of the people she encounters during the trip, the voyage constitutes the rite of passage before they embark on the even greater adventure of building a new existence. However, they cannot leave their old life behind on the shore like a piece of discarded luggage – emotions, disappointments, loss, grief and guilt must first be dealt with before they can enter a new world full of hope.
When the ship finally reaches New York, Valentina has to enter via Ellis Island, where a visa to America is not granted. She returns to Antwerp with the same ship she arrived in, but through the journey she has found the back to the land of the living and is determined to change her life.