The novel is divided into four chapters, entitled “Prologue,” “Day One,” “Day Two,” and “Epilogue.” In the opening section, eighteen people, representing a broad spectrum of Buenos Aires society, are gathered in the Café London. They are the winners, with their invited guests, of a mysterious lottery whose prize is an ocean cruise with a secret itinerary. They are greeted courteously but evasively by an inspector from the “Ministry of Cultural Affairs” who tells them about certain “technical problems” that have complicated the arrangements. They are taken to the Malcolm, a freighter of uncertain nationality, where they discover that the whole after portion of the ship is barred to them. The prohibition, at first unexplained, is later implausibly blamed on an outbreak of “Typhus 224.” The only contact with the other part of the ship is provided by the waiters, a bartender, a single officer who represents the invisible captain, a doctor, and a few uncommunicative seamen who speak an unrecognizable language.
On the first day at sea, the motley group of passengers becomes acquainted, developing attractions and enmities, social and sexual, but the mysterious prohibition becomes the focus of a major division into two groups, sometimes referred to as “the group of the damned” and “the peace party.” The latter are the partisans of the establishment who accept without question whatever explanations are offered by the representatives of Magenta Lines. The former band, composed of the more unconventional, socially critical thinkers, rejects the explanations, suspecting something much more...
(The entire section is 671 words.)