cover image Leopard in the Sun

Leopard in the Sun

Laura Restrepo. Crown Publishers, $22 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-609-60386-4

Basing her transcendent novel on contemporary events in her native Colombia, Restrepo (The Angel of Galilea) tells a riveting tale of the vicious war between two families made wealthy by crime and clandestine business. Nando Barrag n begins his career selling Marlboros on the black market. In a surge of drunken rage, he impulsively kills his beloved cousin, Adriano Monsalve, over the attentions of a widow, and immediately ""knows he has entered the fathomless domain of fate."" Although he desires penance, he is informed in a dream that his rash act means a terrible new existence for both families: the Monsalves and the Barrag ns are bound to slaughter each other until all the males on one side are dead. Each act of vengeance is ritually committed on a zeta, or anniversary, of a family death, and the violence continues for two decades until only four Barrag n males are left. Battle-hardened Nando heads the Barrag ns, and Adriano's nouveau-riche younger brother, Mani, married to beautiful Alina, leads the Monsalves. Then Alina gets pregnant and issues an ultimatum: one more murder and she will leave Mani. Unfortunately, that murder is already in motion. Mani's efforts to launder his money and lifestyle and win back his wife, and the escalation of the war past the bounds of prophecy and tradition until it requires drug money and hired assassins, are the forces that drive the novel toward its tragic end. Restrepo's singular narrative style, in which her present-tense exposition is frequently interrupted by conversations between neighborhood onlookers, who debate the particulars of the story being told and present their own versions, retains echoes of magic realism, but has a freshness that is all its own. Brutal, intense and beautifully written, the novel delves deep into family hierarchies, the heady glamour and destructive power of sudden wealth and the play between fact and legend. (Sept.)