cover image His Name Was Death

His Name Was Death

Rafael Bernal, trans. from the Spanish by Kit Schluter. New Directions, $14.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3083-4

A man walks into the depths of the Mexican jungle in this sobering outing from Bernal (1915–1972, The Mongolian Conspiracy). At 49, the unnamed narrator carries with him a sense of defeat and general bleakness regarding the state of humanity (“I did not consider myself a member of such a ridiculous organization”). Finding sanctuary with a Mayan tribe, he enjoys a brief sense of balance, and the Mayans find in him an exemplification of intellect, calling him “Wise Owl.” However, he soon succumbs to alcoholism. Perhaps as a result of a bender, he begins noticing different vibrations among the jungle’s mosquitoes and spends eight months cataloging what he believes to be their language. As he communes with the insect kingdom, he befriends a mosquito named Good Sun, who claims to be part of a great insect council. It’s through Good Sun that the narrator learns the mosquitos are planning on world domination. The narrative style can feel slightly antiquated, but Bernal’s uncanny prescience about current ecological issues does not, and the pervading sense of personal and social oblivion becomes increasingly bracing. It’s like Apocalypse Now with mosquitos, and surprisingly it works. (Nov.)