The novel tells the readers about the life of four generations of the one family. Mostly it is the story of life of two women: Clara del Valle and Alba de Satigny, their relationship and family issues. There is no chronological order, so it is a bit hard to follow the storyline.
The novel starts with the childhood of Clara. The girl is starting to write her first diary. The entry is about her new pet, a huge dog she loves very much and named Barrabas. The future diaries of Clara are the main source of the information for the author to restore the family storyline. Through these entries we learn about the other del Valle family members, Severo and Nivea. They attend the church with their eleven children and listen to the sermon, that is quite intimidating and threatens every sinner with the fires of Hell. When the priest keeps the pause, Clara, unfortunately, doesn’t notice it and continues to curse - that immediately earns her the reputation of the victim of possession. When her parents express their concerns about it, we learn that Clara has much more of hidden talents that are better be hidden in such an overzealous society. The girl can predict future, interpret dreams and telekinetically move things around her house.
The next entry is sad: Clara’s favourite uncle named Marcos dies. Marcos was an adventurer who loved to tell little Clara stories about his travels all over the world. He also leaves her a mysterious chest that appeared to be full of magical books. Clara is devastated to see her best friend in the coffin, but suddenly she hears whining from his luggage and finds the puppy, half-dead of starvation. It is Barrabas, her future pet dog.
The diary then tells about Esteban Trueba, a young and promising businessman who is betrothed to Rosa del Valle, Clara’s older sister. Rosa is beautiful and kind. Esteban works himself almost to death in the mine in the North to earn enough money to make her happy. But Clara feels uneasy about Rosa’s future. Suddenly she, unwillingly, predicts Rosa’s death and indeed, the girl dies. She tastes the brandy that was presented to her father, a liberal politician and it turns out that the brandy was poisoned by his political rivals. With the death of Rosa the family is devastated. Esteban completely falls into despair and Clara promises herself not to say a word anymore, feeling guilty for foreseeing Rosa’s death. She keeps her promise for whole nine years.
In her diaries Clara tells more about Esteban’s family - his constantly sad sister Ferula and old and fragile mother Dona Ester. When Esteban and Ferula were kids, they had to endure constant hunger and poverty and that made them cold and distant from each other. When Rosa dies, Esteban refuses to return to the mine saying that he is going to rebuild the half-ruined family estate called Tres Marias instead. Esteban is a cruel master: he manages to get the work done fast, but his workers are terrified of his hair-trigger temper, iron fist and insatiable sexual appetite. Esteban rapes every peasant girl in his land, getting lots of them pregnant. Among his victims there is one girl named Pancha Garcia. Esteban doesn’t care about either women or his kids, not considering them his blood.
Esteban attends a gathering of landowners to plan the celebration of the victory of the Conservative Party. This is the beginning of his career as a politician - an unjust and corrupt one, going from bribing his opponents to threatening them with death. His habits doesn’t change when he is a politician - he still likes to beat his workers, bully the inferiors and rape teenager girls. He also spends lots of time in the local brothel where Esteban becomes interested in one particularly beautiful and ambitious prostitute named Transito Soto. She asks him to lend her 50 pesos which he does, and Transito promises to repay him the debt when she finds job in the city.
Clara keeps silent, but she still has her diaries and the power of foreseeing. Her reputation of the victim of possession and muteness repel any possible friends and suitors. So when Clara is nineteen years old, she is a charming and sweet young woman, who never experienced either love or friendship. Esteban Trueba returns back from Tres Marias because he promised his dying mother to marry and have children to keep the family alive. So he blatantly goes to del Valle family and asks if they have any other daughters to marry. Clara agrees because she doesn’t understand the concept of love at all. But at the engagement celebration Barrabas dies, killed with a knife. Clara cradles the dying friend, her ornate dress covered in blood.
Back to Esteban’s house Clara befriends Ferula and invites her to move to live with her and her brother. Soon Esteban impregnates her and she gives birth to a baby girl she names Blanca. They all move to Tres Marias where Clara tries to encourage the frightened peasant women. But soon she gets pregnant again, now with twins, and the family moves back to the city to provide her medical attention. Clara chooses the names for their boys (her gift of clairvoyance allows her to know the sex of the kids), Jaime and Nicolas. Enraged that no boy is named after him, Esteban storms off the house and goes to the brothel, where he meets his old acquaintance Transito Soto.
When Clara is almost ready to give birth, her parents die in a car accident. Clara’s mother is beheaded and Clara and Ferula go to the crash site to find the severed head. They manage to do it, but as soon as Clara returns home she goes into labor. Now she employs Nana, the family nurse and maid, to live nearby and take care about the kids. Clara herself earns some spare money by holding spiritual seances and making friends with the same clairvoyants as she, like the three Mora sisters. The things get complicated when Ferula also falls in love with Clara and the siblings become jealous of each other, competing for Clara’s attention. Once Esteban finds Ferula sleeping with Clara and orders her to get out of the house. Before leaving Ferula curses Esteban. Soon her ghost appears in their house and Clara learns that Ferula is dead. They soon find her body in a small apartment she rented.
Bianca grows up and befriends one of the peasants, roughly of her age, maned Pedro Tercero Garcia. Pedro is a brave and reckless revolutionaire, devoted to Communist ideals. Soon they both fall in love secretly. Every night Blanca runs away from home to spend this time with her beloved. Once they almost get caught, but a huge earthquake happens and everyone is busy rescuing people from the collapsed house. Esteban Trueba has lots of his bones broken and if not Pedro’s grandfather, a famous healer, he would have died. The only victim of the disaster is Nana who died of heart attack caused by fear.
Esteban presses his peasants into rebuilding the estate as quick as possible. In the meantime, Blanca, who was sent to the boarding school, pretends to be sick and returns to Pedro. But Pedro’s behaviour draws attention of Esteban, who threatens to shoot him for Communist propaganda. Soon Pedro, who isn’t afraid of the cruel landlord, becomes a small local hero and all the peasants help him and Blanca to keep their union in secret.
At that time Esteban and Clara experience marital problems. Fed up with Esteban’s infidelity and behaviour, Clara refuses to have sex with him anymore. Esteban, too self-obsessed to see the real cause, decides that Ferula cursed Clara with early menopause. Esteban starts to seek a proper husband for Blanca and invites to their house Count Jean de Satigny, who searches for a rich and beautiful heiress to marry and settle down in America. Of course, Blanca firmly rejects his advances, but the Count decides to avenge himself and starts to spy on her. Finally he catches her making love to Pedro and calls Esteban Trueba to see it. Esteban catches Blanca (Pedro manages to escape) and beats her to half-death with the horse whip. Clara tries to protect her daughter, but Esteban beats her too, knocking out her teeth. Later Esteban tries to apologize, but neither Blanca nor Clara speak to him again.
Feeling lonely and devastated, Esteban still blames Pedro and only him. He sets a reward to anyone who will find the runaway man. Esteban Garcia, an illegitimate Trueba’s son, accepts the challenge, tracks Pedro down and tries to kill him, but only chops off some of his fingers. Garcia gathers the fingers and brings them to his grandfather as a proof - but Esteban Trueba needs the whole body, so he sends the boy off without a reward - making an enemy for a life.
Esteban takes all the family back to the city. Jaime, one of the twins, now a young doctor, tells his parents that Blanca is pregnant. Esteban, enraged by this fact, forces her to marry the Count, offering a huge dowry to him. The Count takes his new wife to somewhere else, where she can give birth without any rumors and scandals around it.
Meanwhile the twins are also having their relationship problems. Nicolas gets a girlfriend named Amanda. She gets pregnant, but Nicolas doesn’t want to marry her, so he persuades Jaime (who is desperately in love with Amanda too) to make an abortion.
The Count who married Blanca appears to be a complete pervert and the pregnant woman runs away from his sexual deviations, returning to her home and giving birth to the baby girl named Alba. Accidentally, Amanda’s little brother Miguel who was hiding in the cabinet saw the process of labor. Despite growing in a dysfunctional family Alba is a happy and cheerful girl, who glues the relationships between family members back. Even Esteban warms up to her, loving her even more than his own kids. Blanca now can reunite with Pedro and even arranges his meeting with Alba, though, the girl doesn’t know that he is her father.
Esteban Garcia also grows up, asking Esteban Trueba for a recommendation letter to the police academy, reminding him that it was he who tracked down his runaway. Trueba doesn’t know that Garcia is his grandson, but Garcia knows it perfectly and hates his grandfather for disowning him. When left alone in the library with six-year-old Alba, he attempts to rape and strangle the girl to death.
Soon Clara dies, and the family house becomes a solemn place. Jaime and Nicolas abandon their father, their relationships break completely. Esteban Trueba is now a Senator and he wants his sons to be as conservative as he is, considering them a disgrace of the family. Finally, he orders Nicolas to sail to North America and never return. After that Esteban Trueba builds a huge mausoleum for him, Rosa and Clara. But when he demands the body of his deceased fiancée from del Valle family, they obviously refuse. Esteban and Jaime then steal Rose’s coffin from the cemetery and put it into the mausoleum. Trying to calm down his depression, Esteban goes to the brothel to meet with Transito Soto, who is now a brothel owner, quite benevolent to the personnel. Esteban understands that he is attracted to the prostitute, but he still mourns Clara too much for the new relationship to start.
Meanwhile Alba grows up and enrolls to the university. There she meets another Communist young man and conceals the fact that her grandfather is a Conservative Senator. This young man’s name is Miguel and he is equally in love with her. They together go to the students revolutionary gathering but the police shows up there and catches them. One of the police officers is Esteban Garcia. Suddenly, without any reasons, Alba gets very sick and Garcia has to escort her home. While recovering, Alba remembers the episode of an attempted rape from her childhood and realizes that she often saw Garcia in her nightmares as green and slimy monster. Alba invites Miguel to her house and he suddenly realizes that he was there before. He was Amanda’s little brother who was watching as Alba was born.
The Presidential elections approach and the Socialist party has a good chance of winning it. All the family except Esteban support their views: Jaime even befriends the Socialist candidate. Esteban, in his turn, is ready to do anything for his party to win. But despite all his efforts the Socialists win the election. Esteban doesn’t take it easy. He holds a meeting with other Conservative party members and comes up with a plan of destabilizing the situation, disrupting the economy and discrediting the current government. But gradually he goes too far and calls for a military coup. A civil war starts.
Miguel’s sister is sick and he dares to ask Alba’s uncle, Jaime, to help. Jaime agrees, but is shocked to find out that she is Amanda, the former girlfriend of Nicholas he loved too. He helps her to abandon drugs and recover.
Pedro eagerly works for the new Socialist government, faithful to his ideals. Blanca refuses to marry him because of relationship problems and the couple decides to have a bit of time apart. Blanca sees that food becomes scarce and starts stockpiling it in the house. Alba though steals this food to help Miguel feed the poor and disabled. Esteban Trueba stockpiles guns instead of food to defend the house. Alba and Jamie again steal the guns and hide them far away in the forest, so that they won’t be used against the Socialists. Jaime is now going out with Amanda, but he feels that he becomes much more attached to his fierce and brave niece.
The government confiscates Trueba’s family estate to give it to the more faithful people. Esteban Trueba defends it with the machine gun but fails. He is captured and taken hostage by the local peasants. Blanca begs Pedro, who is still the authority for the peasants, to save her father. Pedro sets Esteban free and the couple reconcile.
Luisa Mora, one of Clara’s clairvoyant friends, comes to them and warns Trueba that something enormous and bad is going to happen. Than she looks at Alba and says that death is after her and she must leave the country immediately. But neither Esteban nor Alba listen to her prophecies.
Jamie is immediately called to the Presidential Palace as a doctor. It turns up that the military revolted and the defenders of the palace need medics urgently. After a heavy and bloody siege, the military bombs the palace and kills the President. Despite being a non-combatant, Jamie is captured, tortured and killed. While Jamie’s father is glad to hear the news about the murder of the current President, Alba is madly worrying about her friends and family members involved. She gets a call from Miguel, who asks her to forget him and destroy any evidence of them being together.
Esteban Trueba decides that it’s his time to get his share of power and goes to the new government to offer his services as a faithful Conservative Senator. But the military men are rude, they take his car and kick him off. Later a soldier who captured Jaime comes to their house and tells the family that Jamie is dead. Esteban refuses to believe it for several months until he sees the ghost of Jamie and realizes that it’s true. Finally, he admits that he made a huge mistake supporting the government that is much more ruthless and malevolent than the previous one.
While Esteban is grieving, Alba is acting. She takes Jaime’s car to smuggle the war prisoners and the victims of the persecution to the border and to foreign embassies - to safety. Esteban, finally regaining his composure, returns to Tres Marias and burns down all the houses of the peasants for taking him hostage before. Blanca also confesses that she was hiding Pedro in their house. She asks Esteban to repay his debt and help Pedro with political asylum. Esteban escorts him secretly to Papal Nuncio residence and arranges the safe passage out of the country for both him and Blanca.
Alba contacts Miguel and shows him the hideout with guns she made with Jaime. Miguel asks her to leave him again, warning about the ill fate of the wife of the guerrilla fighter, but Alba is adamant and promises to wait for him. Soon Alba is arrested for cooperating with the resistance. The police destroy the house and set it on fire. Esteban manages to survive and gives an oath to find his granddaughter no matter what.