Under a shining moon in the Columbian jungle, the shabby village of La Catunga transforms itself to a place of merriment, music and beautiful women under the colored lights that connote the ladies' different nationalities. These women nightly await the petroleros, men who work for the American-owned Tropical Oil Company, who toil in the hot jungle during the days and spend their evenings drinking and seeking the favors of the women of La Catunga.
Columbia is the country of the Sacred Heart, common language peppered with references to a variety of saints, the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart; religion is wound tightly into a culture that must endure much and suffer greatly. Religion is hope, the promise of a better life after death. In sharp contrast to their religious beliefs, the women do what they must to survive and often all that is available to them is the sale of their bodies for the pleasure of men with a few coins in their pockets. These are businesswomen, who sell their bodies, rarely their hearts: "from the waist up is the soul, from the wait down is business." For the few who lose themselves in dreams of romance, only heartbreak awaits.
Sayonara arrives in the barrio with nothing but the clothes on her back. A cart driver delivers her to the door of the aging, but still beautiful, Todos los Santos, who takes the wild girl into her care, preparing her for a future as one of the most legendary of the women of the village; men will tremble with adoration at Sayonara's rare combination of helplessness and arrogance. Todos los Santos accepts the young girl willingly, recognizing the potential under the layers of dirt and wild blue-black hair that tumbles about the child, determined that this wild young creature might "prosper in the pursuit of survival".
This is an impossible love story in a place where love is forbidden. Narrating as a reporter seeking to separate truth from rumor, the author delves into the history of the legendary Sayonara from those who know her best: the old woman who trains her for success in the life, the cart driver who craves her obsessively, but is unable to sort the girl of the day from the woman of the night and the petrolero who loves her, but has a past he cannot escape.
Dark Bride is a compilation of memories, some truthful, some wishful, all contributing to the ultimate mystery of Sayonara, forever a creature of myth to the women of the village. Her power is their power in a world where simple survival exacts a heavy price and an incredibly lush jungle surrounds the most insidious poverty, juxtaposing the harsh realities of Columbia, where beauty coexists with despair and all is wrapped in the vague mysticism of religious belief. This is a land whose poor suffer deeply from the consequences of poverty, yet remain devoted to the religious convictions inextricably entwined with everyday life. The reader is drawn ever deeper into the small village of waiting women as the journalist unearths the truth of their existence in the dark of night, where fate rules with an unforgiving mien, but prayers of fallen women fill the skies on their way to a watching God. Luan Gaines/ 2004.