Saturday, June 26, 2010

In the Palm of Darkness - Mayra Montero

Victor Grigg, an American Herpetologist goes in quest of an elusive and under the threat of extinction, Eleutherodactylus sanguineus, in the remote hills of Haiti. Thierry Adrien, local guide, with his past experience of supporting such expedition is his company. Alternating two tales, one through the expedition coupled with his personal troubles and the other through the stories narrated by Thierry about his past expeditions, his family , his friends and the Haitian society. Victor is fighting a personal battle, with his continued alienation with his wife, who prefers to travel with her girlfriend to Tibet, and spend more and more time with her. His no so fond childhood memories in his fathers ranch amongst the Ostriches ( he remembers his wife's unhappiness of visiting the place) and his cordial relationship with his parents and colleagues.

Thierry on the other hand has gone through a very harsh childhood. His early childhood memories involve the gala party organised in his house and the unhappiness of his mother over certain visiting aunties. It was only question of time before the un-favoured aunty came into his family ( post his mothers death) , revealing more and more of his fathers un-holy relationship. Young Thierry, doing errands for his father, helping visiting foreigners as their tour guide, helping one to retrieve his lost wife from the mountains. However, the situation in Haiti is not so good, as the lawlessness and killing are rampant. One has no way to escape the turmoil and many of his brothers gets killed.

The expedition did not receive with the same enthusiasm with certain group in Haiti. Their threat was omnipresent and Victor and Thierry had to abandon their search in the Mont des Enfants Perdus ( near Port Au Prince) and move to more remote Casetache mountains. But the situation here too was dangerous, and they had only few days before they were to vacate this place as well.

Alternating narrative between Victor and Thierry , with Victor going through his troubled family life and the expedition diary and Thierry taking us through his life and family is an interesting mix. Victors wife Martha, is on her way out of the marriage often spending time with her girl friend, with Victor immersed in his research activities. Thierry on the other hand is re-living his eventful life to his master, in an attempt to redeem himself. His relationship with his own step-mother and step-sister ( before she was married by his brother), his involvement with the underground organisations, his association with a scientist and his girl friend - the Indian lady Ganesha the eventual fall of status and the turmoil in the country were all very rich, tragic and moving. Mayra Montero also get into giving us the statistical and scientifical detail about the extinction of species in the natural world.

Cuban born Puertorico based author, writing about Haiti. Translation was by Edith Grossman , which prompted me to take this book up. US based herpetologist, coming over to Haiti mountains, in search of an endangered frog, being helped by a local guide. Alternating the narrative between the Scientist and the guide , one going through his domestic troubles and the other telling his life story of survival, violence, the underground society. Very exotic setting, but not delivered beyond that. Pretty weak,overall.


In the Palm of Darkness ( 1995 )
Mayra Montero ( Translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman )

Harper Flamingo Publications

183 Pages
Other Reviews : Angel Rivera , Washington Post ,

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