In early 18th-century Lisbon, Baltasar, a soldier who has lost his left hand in battle, falls in love with Blimunda, a young girl with visionary powers. From the day that he follows her home from the auto-da-fe where her mother is burned at the stake, the two are bound body and soul by love of an unassailable strength. A third party shares their supper that evening: Padre Bartolomeu Lourenco, whose fantasy is to invent a flying machine. As the Crown and the Church clash, they purse his impossible, not to mention heretical, dream of flight.
Among the file-cards for the living and the dead, one - of an apparently ordinary woman - will transform his life.
By day Senhor José labours in the labyrinthine stacks of the city's central registry. By night he ferrets for facts about the famous, compiling his own archive of births, deaths and marriages. One day he chances upon an index card of an ordinary woman whose details hold as much fascination for him as any celebrity's. Striking forth from the regimentation of his daily life, José starts to track the woman down, obsessively following a thread of clues in a bid to rescue her from an oblivion deeper than the grave.