cover image Pandora in the Congo

Pandora in the Congo

Albert Sanchez Pinol, , trans. from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem. . Canongate, $15.95 (441pp) ISBN 978-1-84767-187-5

Piñol’s second novel (after Cold Skin ) is a fanciful metafiction that lampoons adventure stories while telling one with great enthusiasm. Nineteen-year-old orphan Tommy Thomson, a ghost writer struggling to make a living in WWI London, is hired to record the account of a man on trial for murdering two sons of a duke on an expedition in the Congo. The tale that unfolds draws from Stanley, Conrad and Verne, and borrows names from historical figures, often with irony (the man on trial, for instance, is named Marcus Garvey). Tommy spends four years writing and rewriting Marcus’s tale in which the doomed brothers and their enslaved African porters turned miners encounter a subterranean race reminiscent of Verne’s Morlocks. (Marcus calls them Tectons and portrays them as a barbarous threat to above-ground civilization.) Piñol has layers of commentary at work, touching on perception, the nature of literature, the need for heroes and the faults of hubris. It’s a smart book, and Piñol poses piercing questions; the adventure yarn that ties it all together is great entertainment. (Mar.)