Following the changing fortunes of the Mau-Tempo family - poor, landless peasants not unlike the author's own grandparents, this book charts the family's lives in Alentjo, southern Portugal, as national and international events rumble on in the background - the coming of the republic in Portugal, and the First and Second World Wars.
Despite the heavy rain, the presiding officer at Polling Station 14 finds it odd that by midday on National Election day, only a handful of voters have turned out. Puzzlement swiftly escalates to shock when eventually, after an extension, the final count reveals seventy per cent of the votes are blank - not spoiled, simply blank.
On the first day of the New Year, no one dies. This understandably causes great consternation amongst religious leaders - if there's no death, there can be no resurrection and therefore no reason for religion - and what will be the effect on pensions, the social services, hospitals?
Solomon the elephant's life is about to be upturned. For two years he has been in Lisbon, brought from the Portuguese colonies in India. Now King Dom Joao III wishes to make him a wedding gift for the Hapsburg archduke, Maximilian. It's a nice idea, since it avoids the Portuguese king offending his Lutheran cousin with an overtly Catholic present.