“Remember that we’re in the U.S.,” Dante Celestino is told when his daughter runs away. Friends and neighbors warn him that in the U.S. it’s not considered so unusual for a fifteen-year-old girl to run away. Dante had counseled his daughter Emmita to date only Spanish-speaking Hispanics. He told her she should never date someone who joins gangs or makes drug deals. But she ignores her father’s advice and—right in the middle of her quinceanera—runs away with a Latino dressed in black who has tattoos and a shaved head, doesn’t speak Spanish, and rides a lowrider motorcycle. But Dante is illegal, making it impossible to report the girl’s disappearance to the police.
And so begins Dante’s odyssey. Accompanied by a lame donkey named Virgilio and the voice of his dead wife, he sets out for Las Vegas, where Emmita’s boyfriend—or abductor, as Dante considers him—supposedly lives.
In a journey filled with the pain of nostalgic flashbacks of small-town life and married bliss in Mexico and the joy of music and song, Dante encounters a series of eccentric characters: Josefino and Mariana, known to radio listeners as the Noble Couple, who change their listeners’ luck in an instant; Juan Pablo, a young man who uses his computer genius to rob a Las Vegas casino so he can pay for his college education; and the Pilgrim, a famous balladeer who has crossed the border via underground tunnels so many times that even years later he smells faintly of dirt and death.
In this bittersweet tour de force, the First and Third Worlds join hands, and Mexican pueblo life and Internet post-modernity dance together in one of the most memorable fables to shed light on issues such as immigration, cultural assimilation, and the future of the United States with its ever-increasing Latino population.