A drifting, evocative story about a mystery man who brings unsettling change to a village in Guadeloupe. CondÇ (Tree of Life, 1992, etc.) begins with the death of the handsome stranger, Francis Sancher, who has in his short time in Riviäre au Sel created fierce loyalties and even fiercer enmities among the villagers. At his night-long wake, the people he touched convene around the body as each in turn considers his or her relationship with the dead man: Moãse, the half-black, half-Chinese postman who attaches himself to Francis when he first arrives--so much so that the townsfolk believe they are homosexuals--but is then spurned; Mira, the beautiful, light-skinned woman who gives birth to Francis's child; Vilma, the young Indian woman who is impregnated by Francis and wishes she could burn on his pyre as her grandmothers would have done; Vilma's parents; Mira's stepmother; and the rest of the villagers. Through their brief reminiscences, the reader gets a sense of the petty, xenophobic community and a look (albeit superficial) into the minds of the its inhabitants. The glimpses of the dead Francis, however, provide few clues to the mystery. He believed he was cursed, like all his male relatives, to die suddenly around the age of 50; his family was originally from Guadeloupe, the birthplace of the curse; he had traveled a great deal; he had money but took no pleasure from it. Francis makes few real attachments in the community--even his affairs with Mira and Vilma are virtually one-night stands--because of his imminent death, which he waits and watches for almost eagerly. In the end, we are forced to accept that we will never know the whole truth of the story. The mystery of the man and his demise remain unsolved. Accomplished but insubstantial: Like Francis himself, the novel briefly alights and is soon gone.