Set in 1928, just before the onset of the Great Depression, the story revolves around a family of cigar workers and the events brought about by the arrival of a new lector. The cigar factory owned by the patriarch of the family is a small family-run business located in the cigar production center of Ybor City, a suburb of Tampa Florida. Santiago and Ofelia are the owners of the factory and have built their lives around their business and their daughters. Marela, the youngest daughter, is an idealist who is the most excited about the new and younger lector. The elder daughter Conchita and her husband Palomo both work in the factory but are increasingly unhappy with their marriage. Cheche is Santiago's step-brother with a troubled personal life who argues that the factory must mechanize its operations to be profitable, even if it means moving away from tradition. The new handsome lector, Juan Julian, arrives at the factory and chooses to start reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The lives of the small family of workers mirrors some of the themes of the novel, as Juan Julian reads to them of family, love, and betrayals.