Amir is an illegal Pakistani immigrant smuggled into England in the 1960's to work, to send money to his family and perhaps even bring them over with him. A skilled laborer, he is forced to do unskilled work like shoveling sheep dung and processing wool. He lives in a boarding house with nearly a dozen other men, under the supervision of Hussein Shah. He befriends a young student, Sakib, who dreams of being a writer. Their existence is punctuated by secret movies, a visiting prostitute, fear of detection and deportation, and the gangster-like smuggler who comes by for his take every week. The household is shaken up by the arrival of a white girl, Shah's girlfriend, and the sense of femininity and family she brings.