Mateo Xavier Manuel Rodriguez Aguerra-Veracruz, known to everyone as Penco (slang for "orphan") is an artist from northern New Mexico. Twelve years ago, Penco hitchhiked to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to start a new life. Single-minded about his painting and haunted by memories of the lost world of his childhood, he has become a recluse.
When Penco starts to work as a bus driver, the chaotic streets and characters of Juárez begin to reconnect him with the world. He spends time with friends from El Café Misión, a local bar frequented by the elusive Gabriella, a fellow artist; Penco's best friend Frederico, the head chef at the only four-star restaurant in the city; Twain de Vaca, a American film studies student who irritates Penco with his admiration; and a German tightrope walker, Heinrich Damrosch. Ultimately, Penco's friends, the bus passengers, and encounters with three strangers allow him to confront the haunting images and fears from his childhood, a necessary step if he is ever to return home.
Ann McGlinn lived and worked in Juárez in the 1990s, before the city became most known as a place of violence. With a poet's economy of style, she has captured the gritty essence of the city and its vibrant communities in those years.