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H.R. Percy

Toronto, Macmillan, 1989. 234pp, cloth, $22.95
ISBN 0-7715-9464-X. CIP

Reviewed by Theo Hersh.

Volume 18 Number 1
1990 January

A sense of doom shrouds the very first line and permeates this narrative, a stream of consciousness not uncon­trolled or without purpose, but nonethe­less ambling randomly, so it seems.

Peasant-stock Gaspar Sanchez Caramel, the narrator, tells two stories: his own and Paulo Martinez Alcina's, an aristocratic fellow-countryman, once his roommate at Cambridge. They are roommates once again under less auspicious circumstances. Gaspar, a writer and teacher, leads a quiet life in a South American country controlled by a military dictator. Paulo has become a leading international terrorist, the infamous El Azote, "the Scourge."

Their stories unfold piecemeal under the watchful eye of the Cheshire Cat, who delivers their "catechism." Many lives are woven into Paulo and Gas-par's, and coincidences lead to tragedy - a Dickensian device perverted and gone berserk. Gaspar, the innocent bystander, is always in the wrong place. Paulo's philosophy dictates that if you are not with him you are against him. There are no innocent bystanders. Yet his random killing ultimately trauma­tizes him.

There is symmetry to this narrative, which begins and ends with an idyllic scene in a park. This scene, too, is per­verted by Paulo's unmuzzled violence. Gaspar's remembrance is his epiphany; the revelation seals his fate.

Percy, award-winning Nova Scotia author, writes convincingly as Gaspar. His language, including the Spanish expressions, is rich. Though not a magic realist novel like many contemporary Latin works, it deals with prevalent "Latin" themes: love, humanity, revolution and death. It is a powerful and thoughtful novel that is hard to put down or forget.

Theo Hersh, Toronto Public Library, Toronto, Ont.
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