A richly embroidered, ambitious tale, Allende's latest novel charts one man's spiritual progress against five decades of history and cultural change. Allende relies less on her customary magical realism than on concrete, often graphic details in her first attempt to depict North American characters and settings. Greg Reeves, the son of an itinerant preacher who claims that life is governed by an infinite plan, spends the latter part of his childhood in the L.A. neighbourhood where his family settled when their father became ill. His best friend and soulmate there is Carmen Morales, the daughter of a hospitable Latino family. The novel follows Greg and, to a lesser extent, Carmen through turbulent experiences as each searches for identity. Greg discovers several different kinds of racial discrimination in the crowded neighbourhood; later, he taps into the social and sexual revolution in Berkeley; and he suffers through the crucible of Vietnam, from which he emerges determined to become rich and powerful no matter the cost in morality or peace of mind. He enters into disastrous marriages with two beautiful women, both of whom, he belatedly realizes, resemble his passive, remote mother; he also fails as a father.