Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel — By Night the Mountain Burns (2014)

Setting: A fictional Atlantic African island “A sliver of land that pokes out of the murky waters”, based on an actual, isolated island off the coast of Equatorial Guinea.

What it’s about: We start with a utopian, simple society upon which is visited a series of tragedies: large industrial trawlers take the fish from the waters, two villages accidentally burnt down all the crops, a cholera outbreak. Nobody, at any stage, comes to help.

“The evil spread throughout the island and death spread its wings over the village for weeks indeed for months. The spirit of death and evil had our Atlantic Ocean Island in their grip.”

It begins with a beautiful evocative account of the ritual of making a canoe: selecting the tree, mobilising other islanders to help moving the half-formed canoe to the sea-shore:

Every man on our Atlantic Ocean Island has his own canoe, and if he doesn’t have one a new canoe is brought into the world so that he does, so that nobody on the island has to borrow one from anyone else.”

The story unrolls in one long, oral narrative from a child’s perspective, without chapters or changes in perspective — which makes it a tiring read.

You’ll like this if you liked: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe; The South Sea Tales of Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson; The Pearl by John Steinbeck. Also for those (not me) who like Angela’s Ashes style childhood stories.

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