The Renunciation

Edgardo Rodriguez Julia, Author, Andrew Hurley, Translator, Edgardo Rodriguez Julia, Author Four Walls Eight Windows $18 (96p) ISBN 978-1-56858-057-9
Attempting to maintain racial peace in 18th-century Puerto Rico, a cunning bishop contrives the marriage of the secretary of state's white daughter, Josefina Prats, to Balthasar Montanez, the heroic son of a martyred slave leader. That's the bold, unlikely premise behind Julia's lyrical English-language debut. Not surprisingly, Balthasar's and Josefina's marriage of convenience is ice-cold (the only frisson comes when she watches his rather conventional orgies through a peep-hole in her bedroom), but the plan pays off and the island enjoys a period of unprecedented social tranquillity until the Inquisition catches up with Balthasar and convicts him of atrocities committed against political enemies. This ironic morality tale is written as a series of academic lectures, with the unidentified narrator presenting letters, state records, diary entries and prose poems that trace Balthasar's progress from poverty to decadence to madness. After many footnotes and self-deprecatory asides, the narrator ends by unwittingly revising his thesis: paradoxically, it is the crooked white bishop, not the bitter Balthasar, who most clearly exemplifies the condition humaine. Julia's antiqued prose can be tedious, but his insights are often fine, as when he charts the evolution of Balthasar's own writing style or makes his distracted hero observe that his people ""pass through life bearing their small domestic and civil tragedies--which are slavery, pain, and general silence."" (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
Discover what to read next