cover image The African Shore

The African Shore

Rodrigo Rey Rosa, trans. from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray. Yale Univ., $13 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-300-19610-8

Set in Tangier, Guatemalan Rey Rosa’s (The Good Cripple) spare novella evokes the work of his mentor Paul Bowles. Loosely interweaving the stories of Hamsa, a Moroccan shepherd preparing himself to serve as a lookout for a smuggling operation run by his uncle, and of a Colombian tourist (not named until the end), who, having lost his passport during a night of drunken debauchery, finds himself stuck in Morocco, the book is thin on plot and thick on atmosphere. Like that stranded traveler, who occupies most of the storyline, the narrative is content to meander, seemingly refusing action and appearing to take pleasure in passivity. The two strands of the work coalesce around an owl, impulsively purchased by the tourist and sought after by Hamsa, who believes that the bird’s plucked out eyes will work as an amulet should the job his uncle promises materialize. Less a conventional novel, more an episodic exploration of ennui, superstition, and the intersection of cultures—European, Latin American, Arab—that takes place on the eponymous shore, the book is strangely hypnotic. Quietly mesmerizing and unfolding with no discernible pattern, it builds to a simple closing note. Gray’s unadorned translation, keeping many of the regional exclamations intact, lets the narrative shine, demonstrating why Rey Rosa’s reputation has been growing internationally. (Oct.)