Although the narrative of this complex novel begins on July 14, 1999, in Paris, and ends on New Year’s Eve of the same year in the same city, the historical time frame of the events spans many centuries. In Paris, Pollo Phoibee meets Celestina, a naive young woman with tattooed lips, who asks him to explain to her the mysteries of chaotic modern civilization. As Pollo slips and falls into the river Seine, the time of the narrative shifts to the first century and the assassination of Tiberius Caesar, and to the sixteenth century of Felipe, King Philip II (also called El Señor), who is engaged in building the Escorial, the massive palace and mausoleum near Madrid. Pollo, transformed into one of the three mysterious, illegitimate sons of El Señor’s father, Felipe the Fair (Philip I), becomes the lover of Isabel, Felipe’s wife (Queen Elizabeth I). Another of the sons washes up on a beach in the New World and is welcomed by the Aztecs as the promised redeemer. When he returns to the court of Philip II with news of the discovery of America, the king refuses to accept the possibility of a world beyond the confines of the known Old World, all of which he has sought to reproduce and preserve in the Escorial.
Meanwhile, Joanna Regina has had the body of Felipe the Fair embalmed and preserved against the ravages of time. She then takes as her lover the third illegitimate son of her dead husband. Felipe continues to build the Escorial, in an attempt to...
(The entire section is 468 words.)