PASAQUINA by Erin O'Shaughnessy


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An affecting political novel (O'Shaughnessy's first) about the war in El Salvador that is unfortunately flawed by soap-opera romance and a dreadfully maudlin ending. The impoverished village of Pasaquina is located high in the mountains in a remote province, far from the civil war tearing the country apart; if a few of the local teen-agers who live in the foothills play at being guerrillas, they faithfully return to town each Saturday to have their confessions heard by fat Father Herrera, who runs the place like a fiefdom. Life in Pasaquina changes forever, though, when Sister Magdalena is sent to live there by her superiors in the capital; she's a girl of such ethereal beauty that the villagers seriously believe she's an incarnation of the Virgin of Guadalupe, but Rita (Father Herrera's housekeeper and mistress) gets the real story: not especially holy or virtuous, Magdalena was placed in the convent 10 years before, at the age of eight, after her entire family was murdered by government death squads; only her brother Roberto escaped, but he hasn't been seen since. Just after Magdalena's arrival the real war comes to Pasaquina in the form of a group of bedraggled rebels--led by the charismatic Beto and his gentler lieutenant, the ex-poet Garcia--who are running from the Salvadoran army. Up until this point, O'Shaughnessy's story of life in Pasaquina had compared favorably in skill, sensitivity and simplicity with Giovanni Guareschi's tales of Italian villagers in his Don Camillo series, but now the novel takes a sad and sudden nose-dive into utter bathos. Beto and Magdalena are instantly, mystically and soulfully drawn together, and their love so enrages the good Catholic Rita that she decides to inform Father Herrera of the whereabouts of the rebel radio transmitter; Herrara then exposes them all to the government forces. As artillery rounds begin ranging in, Garcia sees Beto and Magdalena together (they've just made love in the chapel, on the altar) and notices a familial resemblance. They're, brother and sister! Beto is the long-lost Roberto! An embarrassing and claptrap ending. But O'Shaughnessy is a strong writer with a deep sympathy for the Salvadoran people, and one hopes she'll try again.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1986
Publisher: Saybrook--dist. by Norton