A Place Called Milagro de La Paz

Manlio Arguerta, Author, Michael B. Miller, Translator, Manlio Argueta, Author
Manlio Arguerta, Author, Michael B. Miller, Translator, Manlio Argueta, Author Curbstone Press $14.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-880684-68-9
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Argueta (Little Red Riding Hood in the Red Light District) is considered El Salvador's greatest living writer, and this latest of his works to be translated into English will add to his reputation: it is a postmodernist tour de force. A disjointed literary puzzle--less so in this translation than in the original--the novel asks much of the reader, but the richly symbolic text offers many rewards. The form is clearly a metaphor for the political condition of El Salvador following the protracted civil war of the 1970s and '80s that left a broken country whose citizens are still trying to restore their former way of life. Likewise, the family of women who live in the shadow of a volcano in the small village of Milagro de la Paz (Miracle of the Peace) are attempting to piece their lives back together after the oldest daughter, Magdalena, is randomly killed by a wandering death squad. The youngest daughter tries to signify continuity by conceiving a child with a handyman in an almost-but-not-quite-immaculate conception. Into the village wanders Lluvia (Rain), an angelic orphan who eats roadside flowers and whose head seems to bear a halo of living butterflies. Under her springlike influence, hope is reborn in the family. To some extent, this novel counters the despair that is so overwhelming in some of Argueta's earlier works, beginning with Un d a en la vida (One Day of Life), yet the message is ambiguous: is Lluvia actually Magdalena reincarnated? Will the suffering created by human greed be replaced by the violence of the earth itself when the local volcano erupts? Miller's fine translation of this powerful but elusive narrative is accompanied by a short glossary of the Spanish terms. (May)
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