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An orphan raised in Valparaíso, Chile, by a Victorian spinster and her rigid brother, young, vivacious Eliza Sommers follows her lover to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. She enters a rough-and-tumble world whose newly arrived inhabitants are driven mad by gold fever. With the help of her good friend and savior, the Chinese doctor Tao Chi'en, Eliza moves freely in a society of single men and prostitutes, creating an unconventional but independent life for herself. The young Chilean's search for her elusive lover gradually turns into another kind of journey, and by the time she finally hears news of him, Eliza must decide who her true love really is.