cover image Captain of the Sleepers

Captain of the Sleepers

Mayra Montero, ; trans. by Edith Grossman. . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-374-11882-2

The yearnings of adolescence clash with adult passions romantic and political in a sensuous, languid novel by Montero (Deep Purple ), set in Puerto Rico during the 1950s nationalist movement. Told in flashback, the narrative alternates between the year 2000, when the protagonist, Andrés Yasín, and pilot J.T. Bunker, the titular captain, confront each other in old age over a memory questioned and a story untold, and half a century earlier, on the island of Vieques. In 1950, the Captain had an affair with 12-year-old Andrés's mother, Estela, who was married a Vieques hotel owner, but also in love with a rogue nationalist named Roberto. As the Puerto Rican nationalist movement comes to a head and Estela caves to passion with Roberto, Andrés's family splinters, and he blames the Captain. Montero's atmospheric, minimal prose beautifully conjures the sensitivity, ardor and craving for normality that define adolescence. Exquisite flashes of lust and corrosive jealousy, among the adults and young Andrés alike, vivify the narrative with such evocative phrases as "a look of such gratitude—that carnal, fiery gratitude filled with passwords." Though the enigmatic Estela leaves an unsatisfying void at the novel's center, Montero artfully choreographs the confluence of family, romantic and revolutionary ardor. (Sept.)