Teenage lovers Montse and Santiago come from totally different backgrounds. Raised in a middle class family, Montse is educated with a bright future ahead of her. Dirt poor, uneducated with few prospects open to him, Santiago joins the military to escape painful memories of their breakup. Santiago becomes one of the few solders who befriends and understands the Saharawi people of the Western Sahara. He takes a wife and starts a family only to lose them both.Montse goes on to become a doctor, eventually getting married and divorced before discovering a photo of her first love in the possession of a Saharawi patient. Contrary to what she had been told, Santiago did not die in 1975. When Montse learns they both lost a child it reinforces her determination to track him down. It is a decision that launches Montse on a perilous journey through areas ravaged by war, poverty, starvation and disease.
The disjointed writing style makes establishing a rapport with the characters difficult but serves to emphasize the unintended effects of colonialism in this complex story. Montse and Santiago provide the framework for Leante to capture the Saharawi’s sense of hopelessness as an entire generation faces the loss of their homeland and the world’s attention remains focused elsewhere. This is not an easy read as the perspectives and timeline frequently change yet remains a strong piece of fiction.