Antonio and Elena are forced to flee to rural San Cristobal. But even there the dormant revolutionary zeal makes her take up the issue for the lethal practices of the local sanitation company. In retaliation, one ill-fated day, she and her young son are shot dead. Earlier they had thought of going to Mexico. Hector Tobar writes, "Perhaps they could move to Mexico. Save enough money to move to Mexico or the United States. A place where they could be safe, and their daughter or son could be educated. A place where you could speak your mind and there were no soldiers on the street." (p.118) After the death of Elena and his son, sensing danger to his life, Antonio flees to Los Angeles.
Once in Los Angeles, he finds life much more difficult and risky. He cannot forget Elena and suffers from intense love pangs. The novel begins with the scene of his landlord giving him final notice of eviction and Antonio is busy packing up his meager belongings. In the process of packing, he is overwhelmed to see a photograph. What is his reaction, when he sees it? Hector Tobar writes, “He discovered a forgotten photograph of his wife and son, taken years ago in Quetzaltenango against a painted backdrop of fanciful lakes and volcanoes. Of all things. He raised the photograph to his lips and tried to fight off the rush of memories that began to gather and rumble like thunder behind his eyes. This picture is the sadness of me, the tragedy of me. (p.7)In Los Angles, he expected a better life.