On a fog-drenched November morning, the Ostia Antica pushes off from the port of Genoa, bound for Buenos Aires. The year is 1902. This is where the story of Lydia begins, an emigrant’s tale of a young woman with a desire to re-invent the world around her.
Set against the backdrop of Latin America at the beginning of the twentieth century, the story of Lydia braids together the Old World and the New, with the ocean and the hand of fate that divides them.
From the coast of northern Brazil, through the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, Lydia believes she is writing her own history. But a street child that crosses her path during her travels leads her to understand that chance and destiny are in fact ruled by similar forces – and that crossing oceans is indeed a way to conjure both.
Once on the other side of the Atlantic, it isn’t long before Lydia comes into a fortune, but also the kind of fame she isn’t quite sure she entirely deserves or ever wished for. And it is her obsession with the street child she decides to adopt while docked in the north of Brazil and her inexplicable infatuation with the man the child seems to have put in her path that drives her forward.
On the Ostia Antica, Ulisse Gavino Paxi crosses the Atlantic for the last time; absorbed by how tediously blessed he is and obsessed with how far he can push luck to influence his own fate.
Paxi is the single force behind the biggest migration to the Americas that Italy, and the rest of Europe, has ever seen.
He is a phenomenon and – so he believes – cursed to succeed where others will always fail. Bored to the point of desperation by his own magnificence, it is either Lydia’s ignorance or complete indifferent to who he is, which for the first time in his life inspires him to become something new, human.
At last – Paxi’s arrogance meets with catastrophe. He barely survives an attempt on his life when in New York on business some time later. For Paxi this only reaffirms the banality of his own indestructibility. But that he will live the rest of his days as a cripple after the attempt is only evidence to him that there is a grander plan after all.
The street child Lydia adopts in Salvador is probably sixteen or seventeen (no one, including herself, really knows) by the time the death of a young prostitute in Buenos Aires forces her, together with Lydia and the crippled Paxi, to flee to the Pacific coast – Chile.
Edmilce begins to explore her personal history. On her way to the Andes, her fragmented memory takes her back to the docks, to a time before Lydia and to the ceremonial grounds of a charitable condomblé priestess, who introduces her to all the saints and deities that seem to be present in everything in that world. Specifically, it is the image of Oxossí, the hunter, and Yemanjá, the goddess of the sea, with her fair skin and wintry eyes that shape Edmilce most profoundly during her impressionable younger years and inspire her to fantasize about a better life.
Thus Edmilce is not in the least surprised when one day she finds herself on a European ship heading south, in the company of Lydia and the handsome Paxi, exactly the way she had always imagined it would be some day.
Edmilce has been at her side from the day Lydia arrived in America. She has been her silent, almost invisible companion and her devoted protector since. But as she grows older it seems blasphemous to even think that she could ever be anything like Lydia, a woman in her own right. She feels unworthy and knows that someday she will pay for her insolence of having a lover, knowing after all that the sea can always take back what it once granted.