Hannibal is eight years old at the beginning of the novel (1941), living in Lecter Castle in Lithuania, when Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, turns the Baltic region into a part of the bloodiest front line of World War II.
His family is killed, and Hannibal emerges from the nightmare of the Eastern Front, a boy alone in the snow, mute, with a chain around his neck. His uncle, a noted painter, finds him in a Soviet orphanage and brings him to France, where Hannibal will live with his uncle and his uncle’s beautiful and exotic wife, Lady Murasaki.
Lady Murasaki helps Hannibal to heal. With her help, he flourishes, becoming the youngest person ever admitted to medical school in France. But Hannibal’s demons visit him and torment him. When he is old enough, he visits them in turn. He discovers he has gifts beyond the academic, and in that epiphany, Hannibal Lecter becomes death’s prodigy.