Like all girls, Mary, born in a small town in the Brazilian province, dreams of love, marriage and children. However, in love she is not lucky. All the novels with cute boys left with a failure. Every time Mary behaves wrong and misses her chance. She allows herself to dream of children and home, but not about love.
At nineteen, Mary perfectly knows how to use her beauty. She has already finished school and works as a saleswoman in a fabric store whose owner is in love with her. For two years of work, Maria collects enough money to go for a week to the city of her dreams – Rio de Janeiro. The girl settles in the “third-rate hotel” in Copacabana. On the first day she meets the rich mister Roger from Switzerland. He turns out to be a Swiss impresario, who needs beautiful Brazilians to perform in a cabaret. Maria agrees to sign a contract and leave for Switzerland. She does not want to miss the chance, as she has done many times.
Before leaving Maria wants to visit home. Roger is afraid that the girl will run away, and accompanies her. The girl’s parents understand that nothing can be changed, and they let her go. The owner of the fabric store admits to Mary in love. He wants to marry her and is ready to wait. Maria is pleased. Now she chooses a career as a dancer of the samba, hoping to become a star, but the lover remains in love with the seller, and Mary has a place to return.
In Switzerland, Roger
Maria lives in a small room without a TV, almost does not go out and can not call home – a call to Brazil costs too much. Gradually, it covers despondency.
If love changes a person quickly, then despair – even faster.
The other dancers think only of marriage. Maria decides to be different and goes to the day courses of the French language, where she gets acquainted with a young Arab and starts a romance with him. Three weeks later she skips a working evening. Roger fires Maria, but she faces a trial, and he has to pay the girl a solid amount of forfeit.
Now Maria has money for the ticket, but she does not hurry back home. The girl seems that she did not use her chance.
She decides to become a photomodel and sends her photos to model agencies. One of the agencies organizes a dinner for Mary with a rich Arab. He offers the girl to spend the night with him. Maria recalls all the opportunities she has not yet used, agrees and receives a thousand francs. Before it opens a new source of income. The girl does not want to go home without fame and money and marry the owner of the fabric store. She again decides to take a chance.
Maria chooses the institution under the signboard “Copacabana”, which turned out to be one of the most expensive and respectable. The owner introduces Maria to local rules and traditions: no drugs and alcohol, and money – 350 francs from the client – forward.
Maria becomes a professional prostitute. She considers herself the mistress of her destiny. Contacts with clients do not bring her sexual pleasure. She treats her craft as a normal job, and can not “explain to herself convincingly why she does what she does.”
Maria calculates that “pure sex” lasts eleven minutes.
All women are sure that the man does not need anything except these eleven minutes of pure sex, and for them he spends a lot of money. But this is not so: a man, in fact, is no different from a woman: he also needs to meet someone and find the meaning of life.
The girl thinks that our civilization has gone “somewhere wrong”, and the problem is not in the ozone holes and not in the destruction of forests, but in these eleven minutes.
However, the girl is trying not to save humanity, but to replenish her bank account, and she succeeds. Maria adheres to the main rule – not to fall in love. She schedules the date of departure. Now she has enough money in her account to buy a farm in Brazil. One day, while walking, Maria enters a small bar. There she is stopped by a long-haired artist of about thirty with the intention of writing a portrait of a girl. The waitress whispers to Maria that he is very famous. Artist Ralph Hart visited Copacabana and recognizes Maria, but it does not deter him – he sees in the eyes of the girl the light inherent in her alone.
Ralph Hart was married twice, travels a lot, earns a lot of money and believes that sex is incredibly boring. He asks Maria to teach him to love, but she does not want to love. The girl refuses to him and gradually calms down, but after three days the artist appears in “Copacabana”, and Maria accepts this gift of destiny without resentment. Ralph takes her to her all night. This evening there is no intimacy between them – they get used to each other.
The freedom of Mary’s love “was that there was nothing to wait for, nothing to ask for,” but the girl understood that one day Ralph would realize that “she is just a prostitute and he is a famous artist” and will turn away from her.
Maria continues to work. The owner of the institution informs her that Ralph is a “special customer” of his institution. One evening he instructs Maria another “special client”, a beautiful black-haired Englishman. He pays the girl a thousand francs and takes them to the hotel. Mary is worried. She refuses to stay with the Englishman for the whole night, but she does not want to leave without knowing what a “special client” is. The Englishman turns out to be a sadomasochist, but this evening he only explains to Mary that the pain can turn “into glee, into a feeling of fullness of life, into bliss.”
People do not dare to look deep into their souls and therefore will never know where the desire to release wild wild beast comes from.
Then Maria meets Ralph. They indulge in fantasies by the fireplace, but intimacy does not happen again – the girl wants to prepare a loved one for sex. A few days later she meets Terence and opens a new face in herself. She likes to show resignation and feel pain. For the first time in her career Maria achieves orgasm with the client.
After this night, Maria believes that she has “found herself,” and dreams to go even further with the Englishman. She talks to the painter about pain and pleasure. It turns out that Hart tried this too. He takes Maria to the public garden late at night, makes her undress and walk barefoot on the barbed gravel for a long time. Maria hurts her legs to the blood, freezes and almost loses consciousness. So Ralph can prove to her that pain is not only pleasant, but also painful. The test, arranged by Ralph, inspires Mary disgusted with the craft of a prostitute, in which suffering seems like a reward, and money justifies everything.
Maria buys a ticket to Brazil. Ralph – “this is the only really clean thing that happened to her.” But he, like a bird, was created “for a free flight,” and she does not want to restrain him.
In the evening Maria comes to Ralph to say goodbye. They make love. Maria achieves orgasm four times in a row. He asks her not to leave, but she has already made a decision. Maria leaves when Ralph is still asleep. Until the last moment, she hopes that Ralph will catch up with her.
But a miracle does not happen. Maria arrives in Paris to change to a transatlantic flight. Her voice is suddenly called by a familiar voice. This is Ralph with a bouquet of flowers and shining eyes. He flew to Paris before Maria and waited for her at the terminal. Maria understands that she has all the youth ahead of her and forgets about the farm and the owner of the fabric store.
In conclusion, the author thanks a woman who told him her story. The former prostitute, who appeared in the novel as Maria, now resides “in Lausanne with her husband and two adorable daughters.”