An ambitious, energetic, overlong but passionate novel about fate, hope, and faith, by the author of the acclaimed La Maravilla (1993). VÇa's fiction often seems equally reminiscent of John Steinbeck and Gabriel Garc°a M†rquez. He has a frank, deep empathy for the underdog and outcast, and a clear, fierce anger about their mistreatment and exploitation. And he loves to weave vivid folkloric elements and beings into his plots. The action this time out repeatedly returns to the Silver Cloud CafÇ, a cantina in San Francisco's seedy Mission District, a way station for a curious group of wanderers. There is a midget philosopher, in search of the woman he loved and lost. A Mexican priest, in flight from a variety of spirits, both demonic and ethereal. And a rather curious assassin, on the trail of his longtime quarry. Not surprisingly, perhaps, their stories begin to intersect. Two ghastly murders in San Francisco, several decades apart, turn out to be related. The repercussions following the bloody repression of a revolt in Mexico in the 1920s reach into the present. Violence in VÇa's fiction has a way of lingering, the losses and guilt it generates being passed down from generation to generation. Only faith, he suggests, has the power to dissipate the deforming effects of violence. Few contemporary novelists dwell so much or so variously on the question of faith: The characters here dream about matters of faith, tell stories about improbable acts inspired by faith, and spend much of their time meditating on the possibilities of redemption. For VÇa, faith is very much on the side of the oppressed, and it plays a central role in the resolution of the various quests at the heart of the tale. A highly original work, then, equally concerned with religion and with the oppressed. Too crowded with incident for its own good but, still, a moving work.