A woman (later revealed to be Ursula Todd) enters a café. At a table at the far end of the room sits a man (who is later revealed to be Hitler) surrounded by a group of henchmen with pastries on the table. He greets Ursula and indicates that she should sit next to him. She does so, placing her handbag next to the table on the floor.
Atkinson chooses to begin her novel with what ultimately becomes Ursula’s most important choice, despite the fact that readers do not yet grasp the significance of the event (as Hitler is not explicitly named in the chapter). This plays into Ursula’s (and Atkinson’s) assertion throughout the novel that the significance of events is often only understood in hindsight.
Ursula eats a pastry as she and Hitler make minimal, polite conversation. She wipes her mouth with her handkerchief, and then bends down to retrieve her father Hugh’s old revolver from her handbag with the handkerchief. She pulls it out and levels it at Hitler’s chest, a move described as being “rehearsed a hundred times.” Around the table, several guns are pulled out and aimed at her. She says, “For her” in German before pulling the trigger. Darkness falls.
Ursula’s choice here highlights her faith in the consequences of small actions: in attempting to murder Hitler prior to the rise of the Nazi Party, she hopes that she can avert World War II and the pain and suffering of an entire continent of people, including Ursula, her daughter (the “her” she refers to) and many of her other family members. Atkinson returns to this version of events towards the end of the novel, posing it as one of Ursula’s most important timelines and one that she ultimately chooses for herself.