cover image Maravilla, La

Maravilla, La

Alfredo Vea, Author Dutton Books $21 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-93588-9

Evoking the magical realism of Latin American literature, this unconventional but compelling first novel centers on a young Mexican-American boy and his grandparents, an Indian whose spirit soars outside his body and a Catholic witch doctor who keeps a jar of mystical oils next to her silver crucifix. The poor Arizona desert town that Beto and his abuelitos call home during the late 1950s is a multicultural Arcadia. Here black, white, Native American, Mexican and Chinese families--not to mention transvestites, prostitutes and a madwoman who recites the poetry of Andrew Marvell to her dogs--live in perfect harmony and mutual respect. Only a murder of passion and the reappearance of a long-lost dog named Apache mar this desert idyll. According to Beto's visionary grandmother, Josephina, whose gift for magic loosely stitches this scattered tale together, the dog is a maravilla , a creature who escorts the spirits from the land of the living to the underworld. Apache's return presages a death that spurs Beto toward maturity, as he learns reverence for his Native American forebears. Though the narrative line is tenuous and sometimes abruptly disjointed, Vea's shimmering prose, colorful characters and vivid imagery are as impressive as Josephina's dreams. (Apr.)