Julio Desnoyers’s father, Marcelo, angered by his nation’s participation in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), immigrates to Argentina. There he helps a vital Spaniard named Julio Madariaga (nicknamed the Centaur because of his lust for life and his many illegitimate offspring) carve a ranch out of a wilderness. In the process, they defeat or win over the Indians, but eventually they build an empire and make a fortune. Desnoyers experiences the splendor of turn-of-the-century Argentina, with its multicultural population and its potential for growth and development. Eventually, Desnoyers marries Madariaga’s daughter, Luisa, and oversees the financial management of the estate, converting where possible Madariaga’s intensely personal and erratic methods to more methodical and efficient ones. The accidental death of Madariaga’s only legitimate son leaves Desnoyers as Madariaga’s principal heir, with a fortune at his disposal. His German brother-in-law, Karl Hartrott, elopes with Madariaga’s second daughter, Elena, much to her father’s consternation; after a period of ostracism, Karl finagles his way back to the ranch and into an inheritance. When Madariaga dies, the German and French sides of his family decide to return to Europe. Desnoyers does so under pressure from his wife, who is disturbed that their daughter Chichi is growing up a wild savage, riding the range alongside her grandfather as if she were the son he lost.
The Hartrotts ingratiate themselves with the German nobility and assume the haughtiness and pretensions of the German aristocracy, while the Desnoyerses became an established part of Parisian society. A visit to their German relatives confirms the Desnoyerses’ negative feelings about them. Desnoyers wastes a fortune on grand antiques sold at bargain prices in auctions and fills up a castle with ostentatious wealth, including a solid gold bathtub. His son Julio becomes a known roué and is invited to the best homes because of his skill at the tango, the most popular dance of the time; he is also the adulterous lover of many an aficionada of the tango. When, however, he meets Marguerite Laurier, everything changes, and Julio’s artist’s studio...
(The entire section is 895 words.)