Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1122
Father Charles Egan has been in the fictional Central American country of Tecan, which resembles Nicaragua, for ten years. Though the Canadian priest has been ordered to close his mission, he intends to stay. His only companion is Sister Justin Feeney, a young American nurse more idealistic than he is....
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Father Charles Egan has been in the fictional Central American country of Tecan, which resembles Nicaragua, for ten years. Though the Canadian priest has been ordered to close his mission, he intends to stay. His only companion is Sister Justin Feeney, a young American nurse more idealistic than he is. Lieutenant Campos of the Guardia Nacional is suspicious of Justin’s political sympathies. After six years in Tecan, the nurse wants to see political and social change. When the Guardia kills a young American woman, Campos forces Father Egan to dispose of the body.
Frank Holliwell, an anthropology professor, drives to New York City to catch a flight to Central America. In Brooklyn, he has lunch with Marty Nolan, a CIA agent and friend with whom he worked during the Vietnam War. Nolan has heard from their mutual friend Oscar Ocampo, an anthropologist in Compostela, that Holliwell is scheduled to deliver a lecture there. Nolan wants any information Holliwell can provide about Tecan, which borders on Compostela.
Sister Mary Joseph, who works in Tecan’s mountains, visits Father Egan and Justin, whom she sees as too good to be true, to try to talk some sense into them. Father Godoy, a Tecanecan priest, says both he and Justin have failed because the country itself is a failure. Godoy is friendly with rebels who are based in the mountains.
Pablo Tabor feels he is wasting his life in the U.S. Coast Guard. He shoots his hunting dogs, threatens to kill his wife, and runs away to Central America. In Compostela, Pablo meets Jack and Deedee Callahan, drunken Americans who want to hire him to work on their boat. Pablo is suspicious about what they may be up to.
Holliwell’s lecture at Compostela’s House of the Study of Mankind is a disaster. A bit intoxicated, he drifts into an anti-American rant that leaves his audience hissing. Attending the lecture are Tom Zecca, a military attaché to the American embassy in Tecan, and his wife, Marie, a former social worker. Both have also spent time in Vietnam. They volunteer to drive Holliwell to Tecan. Holliwell receives a series of telephone calls threatening his life because of the lecture.
Justin and Father Egan are ordered to report to Metairie, Louisiana. Their mission is to be sold to the conglomerate that owns the International Fruit and Vegetable company. Produce is the only Tecanecan resource of value to the United States.
In fear for his life in Compostela, Holliwell asks the Zeccas to drive him to Tecan. Accompanying them is Bob Cole, another Vietnam veteran, who plans to contact the Tecanecan rebels. Cole and Tom explain to Holliwell how Tecan has been exploited by U.S. interests. Tom warns Cole that visiting the rebels is too risky. As they arrive in Tecan, Holliwell sees ten thousand people living in a park near the presidential palace. They have been thrown off their land after copper was discovered on it.
Freddy Negus, captain of the Callahans’ boat, the Cloud, is instantly distrustful of Pablo. The Cloud is ostensibly a shrimp boat, but Pablo recognizes it as being designed to smuggle contraband. There is considerable sexual tension between Pablo and the fortyish Deedee. Negus and the Callahans plan to kill Pablo after he has served his purpose.
Venturing into the interior of Tecan, Holliwell finds the Indian villages there as despairing as the capital. At the ironically named hotel the Paradise, Holliwell meets the British expatriate Ralph Heath, who views Tecan and its inhabitants with great cynicism.
Don Sebastián Aguirre, a friend of Ocampo, meets with the leaders of the coming revolution. He sees Emilio Ortega Curtis, an art professor, as Tecan’s destined leader. Ortega reports that Cole, who claimed to be a journalist, has been executed as a spy. He wants something done about Father Godoy, whom he also mistrusts.
Holliwell goes diving with tourists, a family of five Cuban Americans from Miami, and swims dangerously deep. He meets Father Egan, and Justin comes to his aid when he steps on a sea urchin. She considers Holliwell absurd.
Pablo realizes the Callahans and Negus consider him a fool. He will have to take chances to prove his worth to them. He leaves the boat to confront Naftali, the gangster backing the Callahans’ operation. Pablo finds the aging Holocaust survivor contemplating suicide and waxing philosophical: He says that he knows the value of everything because he has stolen and sold everything. Naftali gives Pablo a large diamond because he has never given anyone anything. Pablo suffocates the old man.
A conversation with Father Godoy leads Justin to the conclusion that her nursing is not enough for her, and she commits herself to the rebellion. Her conflicted emotions about her work, religion, Tecan, Father Godoy, and Father Egan leave her confused. She believes that working for the revolution will serve as penance for her. She realizes the mission can be a tactical location in the coming struggle. Visiting Justin again, Holliwell finds he is falling in love with her.
Unaware of Naftali’s death, his men load the Cloud with weapons. Pablo intercepts a message for Negus reporting that he has murdered Naftali. His life in danger, Pablo prays for guidance. Deedee seduces Pablo, the thought that he will soon be dead adding spice to the sex for her. To save himself, Pablo kills Deedee, Jack, and Negus, but he is wounded in the gunfight. After criminals remove the weapons from the Cloud, Pablo decides to join the rebels.
Holliwell wants to confess his connections to Nolan and Ocampo to Justin. She tells him she plans to leave the church. Tom ignores Holliwell’s plea to help protect the mission. Pablo makes his way to the mission, where Justin tends his leg wound. Pablo thinks destiny has led him to the mission.
Holliwell tells Justin he loves her, and they consummate their relationship. He realizes that by seducing her he has lost her. He confesses that he was supposed to report on what he has seen in Tecan but never intended to do so. Justin condemns him for his despair.
Ocampo is dead. Heath accuses Holliwell of being a double agent, of knowing about the revolution but not reporting it. Heath, who works for a corporate security firm, promises Holliwell he will protect Justin. The Guardia is ambushed on its way to arrest Justin, who accuses Holliwell of betraying her. Holliwell and Pablo escape in the mission’s boat.
Justin is arrested. Campos tortures her, then kills her. Terrified of Pablo, Holliwell kills him. When Father Egan refuses to hear Campos’s confession, the priest is shot. Holliwell finds a fishing boat to begin his journey home.