A spare allegory of inquisition, miracle and redemption.
While not a historical novel, Davis’s debut is set in a vague, almost mythic past, after the Christian defeat of Muslim rule in the early Renaissance. The author is not interested in immersing us in historic density, however, but rather working by symbol and suggestion. The characters are either unnamed (the narrator) or given allegorical epithets (the Moor, the Inquisitor, the Factor). The narrator begins by recounting, some 70 years after the event, a boyhood memory of his attraction to the Moor, a charismatic acequero who helped teach Christian settlers how to irrigate the harsh, arid and mountainous land they inhabit. The Moor has a wealth of lore and narrative to beguile the village children, but he’s by definition an outsider—he’s also accused of blasphemy after imitating Christ’s miracle of walking on water. An Inquisitor shows up to query the villagers, and eventually a show trial occurs in which the Moor is condemned and shortly thereafter executed. Years after this trauma, the boy still feels guilty of betrayal, for he’s the one person who had intended to remain loyal to the Moor. Meanwhile, true evil shows up in the physically and morally deformed Factor, who is employed by the local monastery and who keeps pet lambs that he periodically sacrifices in a gruesome manner. He kidnaps the narrator and almost turns him into another sacrificial lamb. The novel concludes lyrically with the narrator returning years later to his village—and experiencing a miracle that leads him to realize that “if you choose an existence that lacks illusion and does not convert the clod of being to a thing of wonder and celebration, then you will die before you have ever lived…”
A poetic meditation on guilt and faith.