Irene, the daughter of an impoverished upper-class mother and her wayward husband, enjoys her life as a reporter of minor news items for a local women’s magazine. Her stories are often accompanied with the photographs of Francisco Leal, who, unable to support himself with his degree in psychology, has taken up photography in the hope of earning his living in journalism. Francisco and Irene are caught up in their country’s political intrigue when they are accidentally involved in a minor military skirmish while covering a story on a rural faith healer. From that moment, their lives remain in danger.
Although Francisco’s father is a refugee from Fascist Spain who issues antigovernment broadsides from his kitchen, it is not until his own run-in with the military authorities that Francisco really comes to understand the power and malignancy of the military government which controls his destiny. After the couple discover the secret burial ground of the police assassins, Irene is shot and the pair are in constant danger of being killed by the authorities. By the end of the novel, they have fled their native country for a life of exile and resistance.
This is a chilling novel. The presence of the military junta takes on a Kafkaesque quality as the young lovers become more and more involved in uncovering the secrets of the death squads. Isabel Allende has sketched a vivid portrait of what it means to be caught up in a world beyond one’s own control.