Although Estevez's (Manual of Temptations; Game with Gloria) transfixing tour-de-force takes place on an enclave--called the Island--in the center of Havana, it reads much like a journey around the world. Estevez interweaves sequences--a tale of incestuous siblings, a family's adoption of a wounded orphan, vivid glimpses of Havana nightlife, an ensemble of intense characters, the narrator/author's kvetching relationship with his own characters--into a novel that entices readers gently forward with the promise of one tantalizing mini-narrative after another. Just as a small but imposing door divides the Island and the outside world, called The Beyond, the Island's inhabitants try without success to protect themselves from the sublime, unknowable forces governing the territory. Estevez blends Greek myths, biblical tales and literary citations into his own historical mythos. Expressions of abject sorrow, cries of great passion and a quote from George Sand or Rilke may inhabit a single sentence. Allusions abound, arrayed with the complexity and poise of Joyce or Pound. The book consistently throws story-telling and character-crafting--indeed, even the assumed relationship of the reader to the author--into question. After an eerie sequence involving the incestuous lovers, Estevez asks: ""Did you like it? No, it's a fake story, too melodramatic, too graphic, sounds like it was told by a southern writer from the United States."" This novel ends with an original combination of satire and apocalypse, adding a dark cast to the preceding whimsy. The many small plots operating in this impressive montage are tempered, though not tamed, by the author's insistence on questioning his own--and the reader's--narrative assumptions. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999 Release date: 01/01/1999 Genre: Fiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.