Cipriano Algor works as a potter in a small village where he lives with his family. He is one of the few remaining artisans who works with his hands in an increasingly commercialized and technological world, but he enjoys the labor. He sells his pottery to retailers at The Center, an overwhelming shopping mall-amusement park-residential complex.
However, the representative from The Center comes to tell Cipriano they will no longer sell his pottery, as it is too old-fashioned. Dismayed, Cipriano turns to his clay and begins making figurines. He digs farther into his clay pit, searching for more material, and his daughter Marta and son-in-law Marçal help.
Surprisingly, the representative from The Center shows interest in selling the figurines there, so Cipriano makes six of them for a test run. But they are not successful, and Cipriano is left with 300 unsold figurines in his kiln. With no income, the family must move to The Center, where Marçal works as a security guard.
After moving there, they discover employees of The Center are excavating some sort of cave beneath the mall. It is not clear what has been found, but one night Marçal helps his father-in-law sneak in. What he sees is the remnants of six human bodies, long since decayed. When alive, the people had been tied to a bench with a rope around their neck and around their feet.
Horrified, Cipriano and his family move out of The Center. As they leave, they see that The Center is advertising the find as a real-life inspiration for the Allegory of the Cave from Plato's Republic and selling admission tickets.
Best part of story, including ending:
A story about a potter making figurines in an unnamed small town does not seem particularly profound, but the ending, where Cipriano and his family come to realize their own lives are in danger of becoming the same as those of the dead slaves, is confounding.
Best scene in story:
After returning home from The Center, Cipriano sees the three hundred figurines that he made but cannot sell, and imagines them wondering to themselves why they were ever made. Beyond the allegory of these characters as humans questioning their own existence, it's amusing when Cipriano imagines them being found by archaeologists of the future who would reach interesting but erroneous conclusions about our culture based on these artifacts.
Opinion about the main character:
Cipriano is a simple man, which can be disarming, but there is an intelligence and soul behind his simplicity, which goes to the heart of the novel's method of questioning the trappings of modern life (as symbolized by The Center) when compared to the simple pursuits that make us human.