Or, love and loss in a time of ruin.
“Cities are bad and they lie in wait for people.” So says a police officer to a hospitalized victim of a street beating in Madrid, a city embroiled in all sorts of madness, including a wave of jihadi violence and economic unrest. That victim is a priest and former guerrilla who has been trying to distance himself from a past that is catching up with him, just as Manuela Beltrán, at the center of Colombian writer Gamboa’s swirling kaleidoscope of a novel, struggles to come to terms with her own: a poet, student of philology, and an all-around sort of mystery woman, she yearns to avenge childhood abuse even as she keeps questionable company in the Spanish capital and uses literature as an escape. Manuela is brilliant and apparently sane, which might not be said of the odd fellow called Tertullian, who claims to be the son of the pope and to be “the voice of reason and the future, emerging into the ether from the caves of hyper-consciousness to bring you the words of the ancient masters and sages, broadcasting from obscure and forgotten highways.” Each of these characters—along with a couple of others who step over from Night Prayers (2016), an earlier novel of Gamboa’s—turns up in more or less regular alternation as the storyline draws them together‚ now with the addition of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, whose dramatized life story occupies a central part of Gamboa’s tale. In a narrative that moves across continents, from Spain to Ethiopia and Latin America, Gamboa would seem to be saying that none of us is at home anywhere and that, as Manuela muses, “Some worlds just don’t mix with others. You just have to know it.”
A complex, challenging story that speaks to the terror and dislocation of the age.