In 1955, English-bred Lydia Sinclair marries Don Diego Beltran, the wealthy owner of an Andean estate (Hacienda La Bebella). And life goes more or less downhill from there: the death of a first baby; the husband succumbing to a stroke; a devastating drought. But Lydia has meanwhile learned, it seems, that hardship and tragedy and even grotesque cruelty are nothing foreign to the Beltrans; and the book quickly shifts into being a historical chronicle of the unfortunate clan, starting with the 1785 marriage of the Beltran brothers to the La Bastida sisters, sole remaining occupants of an estate that proves to be bricked (the very walls) with pure gold hidden behind tiles. The role of the tiles remains a leitmotif. The narrative goes grimly ahead with the portraits of various ancestors (General Mario the leper, the long-unspeaking Admiral Silence) and setbacks--the worst of which is the 1903 general massacre of the Beltran men: nearly each and every one is killed when a Spanish officer seeks bloody redress for the impurity of his beloved, a Beltran daughter. And St. Aubin de Teran writes of individually complex horrors with control and proportion. But there's little in the end to her book but a catalogue--a dark album opened and paged-through, powerfully specific in spots yet coldly unvaried.