The story is told from Eva's first-person point of view, with some sections narrated from Rolf Carlé's point of view. The story opens as Eva describes her mother's life, and how her mother (Consuelo) ended up working for a Professor. One day, the Indian gardener is bitten by a snake and whilst on his deathbed, Consuelo makes love to him, thus conceiving Eva. Miraculously, Eva's father recovers.Eva's mother then dies after choking on a chicken bone and leaves Eva to fend for herself. After the Professor dies, Eva moves on and eventually stumbles upon Huberto Naranjo, who places her in the care of La Señora, the owner of a brothel.
After living in harmony for a few years, a new police chief moves in and immediately storms the brothel. Eva is forced to flee and eventually stumbles upon Riad Halabi, a man with a cleft palate. Eva moves to Agua Santa with Halabi and settles into her new life, living with Riad and his wife, Zulema. After a few years, Riad's cousin Kamal moves in to live with them. Zulema is instantly infatuated with Kamal and when Riad goes on a trip, she seduces him, after which Kamal immediately leaves. Then Zulema loses interest in life, eventually committing suicide by shooting herself in the mouth. After Eva is detained on suspicion of murdering Zulema, Riad bribes the police to release Eva. Eva and Riad realize that she must leave to escape the rumors, but before she leaves they share one night of passion.
When Eva returns to the city, she reunites with the beautiful and engaging transsexual Melecio, now known as Mimi. Eva then reunites with Huberto Naranjo for infrequent sexual encounters, which Eva treasures as the only time she can see her loved one. Huberto is leader of a guerrilla unit fighting a revolution. As time goes on, Eva realizes that Huberto, although a dear friend, is not the man for her.
Throughout the novel a parallel narrative is told—the life of Rolf Carlé, traced from childhood to adulthood. The book's narrator tells us at the beginning that he is the man Eva will fall in love with and marry. Rolf grows up in Eastern Europe with a sadistic father who returns from the war and regularly torments and humiliates his wife. Afterhis father is killed by some local boys, Rolf's mother resolves to send him to South America to be raised by his Aunt and Uncle. As Rolf grows up, he becomes interested in reporting news and becomes a leading journalist, shooting film footage from the front line. Rolf films the guerrillas, meetingHuberto, and later Eva. As the two slowly fall in love, they help the guerrillas in releasing nine prisoners from jail as an act of rebellion. When the rescue is complete, the two retreat to his cousins' home. There they profess their love for each other, consummating their relationship and agreeingto marry.