Lush landscapes, enchanted happenings, tangled roots and violence suffuse this beguiling collection of stories set in the highlands of Guatemala.
Quince, the narrator of these interlocking stories, is a writer living in the village of Panimache, near three volcanoes and a deep blue lake. He serves as a keen observer of the vibrant, tense surroundings in a land that “bled from a war no one wanted to notice.” Panimache is a town divided by conflict, caste and consciousness. It’s teetering between bourgeois aspirations and Mayan peasant culture, seemingly placid but on edge from the fighting between government soldiers and guerillas and simmering with repressed bad memories. The title novella introduces a diverse, intriguing set of characters—shopkeepers and restaurateurs; Quince’s friend Uno, a nature photographer and reputed shaman; El Capitan Lobo, the urbane army commander who feels apologetic about the brutal counterinsurgency he’s waging (“[s]ometimes we massacre the Indians, other times it’s the guerillas”); and La China, a whore longing to be a muse. These and other figures recur in 10 more yarns that are often shot through with exquisite threads of magical realism: A youth is beguiled to his doom by a gorgeous vampire; a con man makes his living with a fortunetelling sparrow; a man’s frantic search for buried treasure yields an astounding payoff; an orphaned, ostracized Mayan girl hides herself in the shapes of birds and animals. Moulun’s clear prose balances sensual sounds, colors and foods against a deadpan humor and a detached, meditative mood. His writing has a fablelike quality, featuring strong narratives linked to mythic themes, but it’s also full of social nuance and subtle psychological shadings. Moulun transforms Guatemala’s troubled, complex reality into a rich, compelling aesthetic vision.
Imaginative storytelling with real literary depth.