A coming-of-age tale about an unusual boy and an extraordinary dog who share the tribulations of a Brazilian plantation’s indentured laborers.
This novel opens with the boy, Lano, telling Ca’d’Zan, the wild dog he named after the plantation, a story which kicks off a long tale of heroism. As Lano and the dog grow up, other characters are introduced: John One, the insane founder of the Ca’d’Zan plantation; John Two, his son; Angelina Bonita, a woman as mysterious and beautiful as an angel; and Lano’s father, Raimundo. Kersh describes the workers’ daily drudgery and the cruelty of their bosses but infuses the story with ephemeral mysticism. For example, Raimundo builds a shadow-play “magic lantern,” and Ca’d’Zan rescues a Native American princess whose presence is announced by butterflies; this earns the dog the title of “Much Dog” and makes Lano a member of the princess’s “people.” Eventually, the two Johns and other powerful interests want more land, leading to a confrontation with Native Americans and environmentalists and a battle between natives and loggers. Lano proves himself a warrior during these fights, despite his choice not to shoot enemies on either side. Later, after two tragic deaths, the plantation falls apart, and Lano finds his place with the native people and takes part in more pitched battles. Kersh’s beautifully rendered language sounds slightly foreign, slightly mystical: “ ‘Close your eyes and fly away, Lano,’ Mother whispered in the near dark, her arms bright beautiful wings to fly me. ‘Lose your body to glide on my words over the whole dark earth.’ ” His style is reminiscent of magical realism, but, here, the enchantment isn’t an integral part of the narrative; it simply glows at the edges.
An elegant dream in marvelous prose, fully accessible to general readers, but a perfect fit for fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and Franz Kafka.