SANTERIA, BRONX by Judith Gleason


Email this review


Dense and strange, if not rich, and it's evident that Gleason's material is that too. Santeria is a Cuban religion, out of Africa and now practiced widely in the Bronx, where white teenager Raymond Hunt (whose parents were killed helping revolutionaries in Africa) encounters it in the person of Concha, a powerful priestess of impressive spiritual gifts who inexplicably adopts him as a sort of godson and eventually initiates him into the cult. The book, we are told in an appended note, is Raymond's report to a museum curator, undertaken to pay for the initiation. Like Raymond Judith Gleason has known a Concha and has observed practices similar to those here; one feels that her descriptions are authentic but the thin layer of fiction she has added to it only stands in the way of factual investigation without contributing the dimensions of a novel. None of the characters exist in themselves and Raymond least of all; even Concha, described as a ""character,"" has presence but no real personality. The dialogue comes on as stilted naturalism with a false ring and every now and then the narrative breaks into rhapsodic creative writing. Worse yet there is no plot -- only the chronicle of Raymond's pursuit of Santeria, his meeting with Concha and immediate, overwhelming fascination with her, his sudden falling in love with the Bronx River which Gleason weaves into his possession by the god/saint who will become his guardian spirit, and at last his confirmation, arranged by Concha whom Raymond then sends off to Africa to study the religion at its source (though the notion of this pale and passive kid effecting such a project, or of Concha needing him to suggest and arrange it, is hard to credit). But the reader never gets past Santeria's exotic appeal, and the dynamics of Raymond's spiritual quest and purported rebirth remain as obscure as the cult secrets he takes care not to divulge. Notes for a novel then -- but even as such, enough to send certain readers to the reference library or even the Bronx.

Pub Date: March 12th, 1975
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Atheneum