cover image Harp and the Shadow

Harp and the Shadow

Alejo Carpentier. Mercury House, $16.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-916515-71-3

This posthumous work by the influential Cuban writer does not have the scale of either The Lost Steps or Explosion in a Cathedral , but its baroque subject matter, languid, introspective prose and pointed irony show why the author is often considered the father of magical realism. Examining the ambiguous mythology surrounding Christopher Columbus, the novel begins in the 19th century with stuffy Pope Pius IX considering the explorer's possible beatification. Next, the dying Columbus relives his sea voyages to the New World. The last section returns to the Vatican and the question of sainthood with a rollicking debate waged by Victor Hugo, Jules Verne and the long dead Columbus. The chicanery Columbus used to finance his trips and his ambivalent feelings toward the Indians he enslaved and exploited are portrayed in unflinching detail. As presented here, Columbus's real motivation was hubris--the flaw that finally prevents his beatification. In the end Columbus remains an enigma, which is perhaps as it should be. (June)