Carlos Bluhm leads the good life in upper-class Lima: He attends social functions with his elegant wife, goes out drinking with his three best friends, and has the occasional, fleeting assignation. Then he meets Maria Fernandez, a dancer at a tango bar in a rough part of town. The beautiful fifteen-year-old intoxicates him. An indigenous dark-skinned Peruvian, she represents everything his safe white world does not, and soon he can’t get her out of his mind. They begin a passionate affair, one that will destroy his marriage and shatter the only reality he’s ever known.
Flash forward twenty years: Against all odds, Carlos and Maria have remained together. But when Maria finally presses for a formal commitment, feelings long suppressed erupt in a tense endgame that sends both of them hurtling toward a dangerous resolution that will forever alter their lives.
Set in Peru's capital city, this spare, unsentimental novel examines the far-reaching and life-changing consequences of sexual obsession. Carlos Bluhm, a married father of two, is enjoying an outing at a sleazy club in 1986 when he meets 15-year-old Juana Maria Fernandez, a dancer working two jobs and living in the slums. Maria is the polar opposite of Carlos's Germanic wife, Sophie, and he is immediately captivated by her. After Carlos takes Maria away for an illicit vacation, Sophie discovers her husband's affair and moves her sons, her mother-in-law and all of the house's possessions while Bluhm is on vacation with his mistress, leaving Bluhm to come home to an empty house. The second half of the book flashes forward 20 years, revealing Carlos and Maria uneasily living together and beginning to drift apart. Trying to preserve the lifestyle she's come to depend upon, Maria makes desperate attempts to keep Carlos under her spell. While the story ends with a whimper, the finely tuned human drama and subversion of the happily-ever-after drive home the setup's inherent sadness.