By Night the Mountain Burns

Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, trans. from the Spanish by Jethro Soutar. And Other Stories (www.andotherstories.com), $15.99 ISBN 978-1-908276-40-7
In this poignant novel by one of Equatorial Guinea’s most celebrated authors, a series of tragedies strikes a small Atlantic Ocean isle after a foreign fishing vessel appears off the coast. In payment for loitering in the island’s waters, the boat’s crew gives tobacco and a portion of the fish they’ve caught to the locals. After they accept the sailors’ tithes, and after one of the mariners impregnates a girl from the island, the mountain is accidentally set ablaze, a senior ministrant dies, a woman is beaten to death, and a cholera outbreak kills hundreds. The islanders believe their hardships are due to the Saltwater King. By making a collective offering to the sea, they hope to satisfy the deity’s hunger and change their fate. Laurel’s approach is ethnographic and uses an islander’s first-person perspective to provide brief histories of the culture, terrain, and habitat. Although the narrative voice is sometimes repetitive and intentionally elusive, the descriptions of the island’s creatures, customs, language, and lore lead to clever revelations in the plot. The choice in point of view is one of the book’s strongest aspects, and the unnamed narrator’s conversational, indirect style is fitting. This fascinating story emerges from the speaker’s inquiries into the identities and social laws of his community, and from his attempts to make sense of the calamities of his homeland. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/2014
Release date: 11/01/2014
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