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The line between fiction and reality is crossed and re-crossed in this tale of UCLA student Catherine Langley, who comes face to face with the character Angela Star from one of her mother's well-revered short story collections. The two young women, twenty-year-old Catherine and nineteen-going-on-four hundred-and-seventy-two-year-old Angela, become close while searching for the ultimate meaning of their lives.
Cat is a musician trying to finish college, meet someone she can feel passionate about, and help her father who is suffering from a mysterious, malaria-like ailment. Angela is looking for a man who died in one of the stories in which she was the protagonist but whom she remembers from a life not told in the fiction a life with a lover and a son in the 1500s in Portuguese East Africa.
Together Cat and Angela discover what is real and what is not, literally and metaphorically, through their interactions with an Alzheimer's patient; Cat's flute teacher, a woman she has adored since she was ten; Catherine's mother, who must ultimately revise Angela's story; a horse with a wound infected by an ancient sword; and a black, woodwind professor whose ancestry traces back to the last place Angela saw her son Ciudad de Oro, a Spanish slave-trading post in 16th century East Africa.
What seems impossible becomes a vibrant and heart-stopping reality against the backdrop of Southern California's Santa Monica Mountains, the spring rush of the San Gabriel River, and the rich Hadzabe tribal area along the Ruaha River in Tanzania. The dimensions of time flood and converge, leading everyone on Cat's and Angela's paths to a new place at once terrifying, inexplicable, and true.