Jose Costa is a ghostwriter, a man in awe of the written and spoken word, grounded in the comfort of women’s bodies; he writes about women and on women, carefully inscribing his language on their limbs. One will only let him write backwards; she reads the words in the mirror before washing them off, preparing a new canvas for him to use the next day.
Costa envelops himself in words, enraptured by the sounds of language, even the brief snatches of Hungarian he has heard while on a stopover in Hungary: "Recently written words, with the same speed with which they had been written, ceased to belong to me." A native of Rio, Costas is fascinated with words rather than writers, attuned to the fluidity of language, listening to tapes of those for whom he writes, ingesting and flawlessly interpreting their lives, those men who receive acclaim for what they have not accomplished.
The famous masquerade as authors, their works in fact created by men like Costa, wealth and fame within easy reach of the so-called authors. Taking inordinate pride in this ability, Costa delights in his private achievements, his unique task as the unrecognized voice. Life is fulfilling until he is confronted with the real meaning of such anonymity, when his wife is in awe of a book he has ghostwritten but cannot claim.
Running from a marriage he has broken by carelessness and commitment to his work, Costa returns to Budapest, where a language instructor named Kriska teaches him Hungarian, "the only tongue the devil respects." Once more language defines him, becomes his obsession, Kriska the source of his knowledge, the muse that feeds his dreams and now his lover.
Traveling between two countries, Costa finds purchase in neither, the easy familiarity of sounds altered by whichever tongue he speaks, and the dreamlike images of his women - Vanda in Rio, Kriska in Budapest. Conversant with loneliness and displacement, the ghostwriter has misplaced his identity, as though lost in a snowstorm that obliterates all but the phrases that swirl through his brain.
In this seamless narrative, Buarque transports his protagonist through two distinct yet similar worlds, in search of connection but isolated by his own proclivities, where talented men create for the inept, marketing their souls in the pure joy of writing. As each of his carefully constructed personas disintegrates, Costa must choose whether to hide among the hissing voices of others or to claim an opportunity for love. Sympathetic, brilliant, and often sad, Costa navigates the treacherous territory of self.