Second-novelist Richman (The Mask of the Carver’s Son, 2000) pits political morality against personal loyalty as a Chilean exile in Sweden recovers slowly from being brutally kidnapped in retaliation by the Pinochet government.
Well-to-do Salome and working-class Octavio marry as students in Chile. Their lives revolve around poetry and romance until Octavio falls into a successful acting career that brings the couple and their children financial success but leaves Octavio spiritually empty. Then Pablo Neruda asks him to help Allende prepare his campaign for president. Apolitical Octavio can’t resist his idol Neruda, then finds himself drawn to Allende’s goals. Ironically, Salome, already impatient with what she considers her husband’s naiveté, is the one Pinochet’s men kidnap and torture to get even with Octavio after Allende’s fall. As soon she’s saved, thanks to Octavio’s intervention, the family receives asylum in Sweden. There, Salome begins therapy with Samuel, who specializes in post-traumatic stress syndrome. A French Jew whose parents never recovered from their survivors’ guilt after escaping to Peru during the war, Samuel is married to Kaija, whose Finnish parents sent her for adoption in Sweden to avoid their hardships during WWII. Samuel and Salome have a brief affair, which, for ethical reasons, Samuel ends, while Salome leaves Octavio and makes a life for herself. Samuel returns to Kaija, who has been distraught over her own secret, early menopause. Recommitted to Kaija, Samuel dies young of cancer. Twenty years later, Salome is approached to testify to the atrocities perpetrated against her and turns to Octavio for advice. Can she and Octavio rekindle their old love?
Richman flirts with some interesting issues of private priorities—family and love—versus the greater public good by showing both Salome and Octavio’s points of view, but ultimately the Nicholas Sparks–style sentimentality gets in the way.