cover image In the Palm of Darkness

In the Palm of Darkness

Mayra Montero. HarperCollins Publishers, $21 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-06-018703-3

The Cuban-born Montero, author of three other novels and a short-story collection, is well established in Europe and in Central America. In this literary page-turner, her first book to be translated into English, she fashions a haunting meditation on the conflict between a scientific worldview and a more animistic one. American herpetologist Victor Grigg and his Haitian guide, Thierry Adrien, comb the volatile and bloody mountainsides of Haiti in search of a single specimen of the nearly extinct grenouille du sang (blood frog). Alternating between Victor's refined exposition of their present-day quest and Thierry's lucid and evocative portrayal of his life in the Haitian town of Jeremie, Montero fashions a richly layered story. Furthering the sense of urgency is the presence of violent thugs set on controlling the mountainsides for their own dubious works. As Thierry's unfolding story sheds light on the troubled soul of Haiti (where zombies and other otherworldly threats are made to seem as real as the worldly threats of corruption and poverty), Victor finds himself, despite his academic detachment and pragmatism, pulled ever further into the mysteries of the land and its alien logic. Montero accomplishes much here with an extraordinary blend of power and economy. Thanks to Grossman's lovely translation, American readers can now enjoy this author's formidable talent. First serial to Conjunctions; foreign rights sold in the U.K., France, Spain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway; U.K. and translation rights: Tusquets; first serial and dramatic rights: Susan Bergholz. (May)