Rolf Carle is a reporter who is sent on assignment to take pictures and report on the rescue attempts to save thirteen-year-old Azucena, a girl who is entrapped in a mud pit due to a volcanic eruption. Rolf's lover acts as a narrator, telling readers that Rolf is known for...
Rolf Carle is a reporter who is sent on assignment to take pictures and report on the rescue attempts to save thirteen-year-old Azucena, a girl who is entrapped in a mud pit due to a volcanic eruption. Rolf's lover acts as a narrator, telling readers that Rolf is known for his calmness in the midst of calamity and his ability to remain emotionally strong in the midst of danger or suffering. She states that being behind a camera allows Rolf to emotionally distance himself from the horrible events on which he must report.
When Rolf trudges into the mud to be with Azucena, he shows both his courage and compassion, trying to help the efforts to rescue her and comfort her in her distress. However, as his time with Azucena lengthens, Rolf's lover comments that "he had completely forgotten the camera" and that "he could not look at the girl through a lens any longer." This tells the reader that Rolf is now emotionally involved in Acuzena's suffering.
As he talks with Azucena, Rolf's character changes and his defensive mechanisms crumble. He begins to metaphorically revisit the tragic sufferings of his past such as having to bury prisoners at the concentration camps during the Holocaust, enduring his father's cruel abuse of him as a child, and facing the guilt he feels at abandoning his retarded sister Katharina before her death. Rolf's true weaknesses are revealed. He is a man who has been running away from his past using his profession as a diversion from his own suffering. When he returns home after Azucena's death, his lover reports that he is not the same man as when he left. She comments that he no longer takes pictures and spends most of his time staring out the window. She knows Rolf is trying to come to terms with his past as he has finally begun to deal with the horrible experiences he endured.
While Rolf is frantic in his efforts to save Azucena, her character remains calm. It is almost as if she is resigned to her impending death. In addition to her calm, Azucena is also described as having a "humble tone," and her words seem as if she is "apologizing for all the fuss" made over her rescue attempts. Azucena shows her caring and loving nature by comforting Rolf even though her own health is deteriorating. She teaches Rolf how to pray and they spend the nights talking. Towards the end of her life, Azucena does show her sadness at not having known love and being deprived of the future joys of life. Rolf tells her that he loves her and this seems to give her comfort. In the end, Azucena proves her inner strength as she comes to terms with the fact that her life will end.