The protagonist of the novel Zárate, Santos Zárate was a historical figure. A Venezuelan highwayman with a stronghold in the forest of Güere, he terrorized the valleys of Aragua for some twelve years. The action of the novel takes place in 1825, a few years after Venezuela had sealed its independence from Spain by defeating the Spanish forces at the Battle of Carabobo (June 24, 1821). At this time, General Francisco José de Paula Santander was vice president of the Gran Colombia, the conglomerate of Colombia and Venezuela that had fought Spain for its freedom. General José Antonio Páez governed the Venezuelan region, with his headquarters in Valencia. The entire nation readied itself to confront the great scourge of the times—the terrible and feared marauders that sowed apprehension and terror among the residents of the valleys of Aragua.
There is in the novel the exaltation of an elite agrarian way of life, idyllic, edenic, that contrasts vividly with the violence of life in the llanos and, especially, with the activities of the highwaymen. Moreover, there is a delicate love story that develops pari passu with the official activities of the main protagonists. The development of the female characters may seem a bit quaint for today’s tastes, though they are beautiful and carefully drawn. An irrepressible humor, at times subtle, pervades the entire novel.