Set in an unnamed Latin American military dictatorship, celebrated Chilean author Isabel Allende’s novel Of Love and Shadows
(1984) charts the tumultuous relationship of magazine editor Irene Beltrán and photographer Francisco Leal. As their story unfolds, Irene and Francisco reach a point where they must risk all they know and love for the sake of truth and justice.
Irene is the unconventional daughter of a wealthy, bourgeois family. Her fiancé is Army Captain Gustavo Morante. Irene and Francisco first meet working together on a magazine article about Evangelina Ranquileo, a strange farmgirl near the village of Los Riscos who seems to possess supernatural powers. Every day at noon, she has seizures that cause dancing among the silverware in the cupboard and the sound of hail upon the roof. The locals flock to Evangelina's home in the hope that she can use her magic to work miracles to cure them of their ills.
When Irene and Francisco arrive at Evangelina's home, they find the army has arrived, too. Evangelina's brother Pradelio, who is in the army, has told Lieutenant Juan de Dios Ramirez about his sister's abilities. Thinking she is faking, Lieutenant Ramirez tries to scare her out of her state. When he approaches her, Evangelina enters a convulsion and attacks him, dragging him out of the house. Later, Lieutenant Ramirez returns; in revenge for the humiliation he feels he suffered at her hands, he holds the family at gunpoint and arrests her. Evangelina is never heard from again.
Irene and Francisco try to help Evangelina's mother, Digna, find her daughter. They go to the morgue to look for her body, but it isn't there. What they do find, however, opens Irene's eyes to a reality she has never before faced: the brutality of the regime under which she and her fellow countrymen live. Until now, her privilege and willful blindness have kept her from acknowledging the violence and oppression of life in her country. When she notices the proliferation of dead bodies at the morgue—people who had all been tortured to death by the regime—she sees
for the first time. Irene's conscience awakens.
So too does her affection for Francisco. They gradually recognize their attraction to one another. Irene decides to break off her engagement with Gustavo.
A military friend of the Ranquileo family, Sergeant Faustino Rivera, tells Digna that he saw Lieutenant Ramirez dispose of Evangelina's dead body and imprison Pradelio. Sergeant Rivera has helped Pradelio escape to the mountains. Digna asks Irene and Francisco to help get Pradelio out of the country. They go to where he is hiding in the mountains, and he informs them that if Lieutenant Ramirez had, indeed, killed Evangelina, Ramirez would have buried her in an abandoned mine.
Irene and Francisco go to the mine named by Pradelio and discover Evangelina's body. Francisco has his camera with him, and he takes photos of the scene. Later, he and Irene return to the mine and unearth more bodies buried there—all people tortured and killed by Ramirez. Francisco again uses his camera to document the gruesome discoveries.
Francisco gives the photos to his brother José, a priest. The Catholic Church is the only organization in the country not under the thumb of the dictatorship. José eventually persuades the Church to convince the government to open the mine, retrieve the bodies, and start an official investigation.
After Irene meets with Sergeant Rivera, and he tells her what he knows about Ramirez killing Evangelina, a hit-and-run driver kills Rivera.
A few days later, an unknown assailant guns Irene down in the street. She has surgery, and Francisco stays with her at all times. Members of the military station themselves outside the hospital, and she and Francisco know that it is only a matter of time before they make another attempt on her life.
Ramirez is found guilty after the investigation that was first encouraged by the Church, but the General of the military grants him a pardon.
Meanwhile, Irene's former fiancé, Gustavo, grows fed up with the rampant corruption in the country's government. He sets out to overthrow the General, but the secret police discover his plans. He is summarily arrested and killed.
Irene and Francisco escape the hospital and the ever-watchful eyes of the military out front. Their friends help them flee the country, and as the novel ends, the couple travels to Spain, where they will build a new life together—and wait for democracy to return to the land they call home.Of Love and Shadows
was made into a feature film in 1994. Directed by Betty Kaplan, the movie starred Jennifer Connelly as Irene and Antonio Banderas as Francisco.