Mayra Montero, , trans. from the Spanish by Edith Grossman. . HarperCollins/Ecco, $22 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-06-621059-9

A major writer of the contemporary, post-Boom generation in Latin America, Cuban-born Montero (The Last Night I Spent With You; The Messenger) offers up more of the startling imagery and hypnotizing storytelling her readers have come to expect in her fourth novel to be translated into English. This time, however, the brutal tale she has to tell sags under the weight of its dark portentousness. In her retelling of the true and tragic love story of Similá Bolosse and Zulé Revé, Montero illuminates the world of Haitian Voudon as it is practiced by the downtrodden Haitian immigrants who work in the sugar-cane fields of the Dominican Republic. At the age of 12, Zulé, the wild and willful only surviving daughter of a cursed family, is anointed mambo, or priestess, of a powerful Dominican Voudon community and undergoes a seven-year apprenticeship. The most important of the celebrations she presides over is a Holy Week procession, a Gagá, which each year wends its way across the sugar-cane fields. As the novel begins, a Gagá is being planned, but threats of violence threaten to derail it. Similá Bolosse, a Haitian renegade once Zulé's lover and now her enemy, has pledged to cut her to pieces if she refuses to join forces with him. Perhaps even more dangerous is Zulé's half-Chinese bodyguard, who pines for his mistress and is consumed by jealousy. At once a brutal, expressionistic voodoo fairy tale and an indictment of the plight of Haitian cane workers in the Dominican Republic, this demanding novel proves that Montero is capable, like Zulé, of "looking at the sun for a long time, searching with staring eyes for the temporal cause of its fury." (Aug.)