Author(s): Anita Desai
Eric is a youngish man, self-conscious, awkward, a buttoned-down North American, a would-be writer, and a traveller in spite of himself. Susceptible to bossy women, he finds himself in the wake of one in Mexico, where he is overwhelmed at first with sensory overload, but is gradually seduced - by the strangeness, the colour, the contrasts, the old world.
He finds himself on a curious quest for his own family in a 'ghost' mining town, now barely inhabited, where almost a hundred years earlier young Cornish miners, like his own grandfather, worked the mines. Until Pancho Villa and revolution came to Mexico.
Desai paints a subtle, miniaturist history of 20th century Mexico, seen from unexpected perspectives, that evokes the exploitation of the Mexican Indians while yet looking askance at some of their 'saviours' like the formidable Queen of the Sierra, Dona Vera, widow of a mining baron and with a colourful, dubious, European past of her own. With vivid sympathy and brilliantly telling detail, Desai conjures up Eric's grandmother, and her poignant story, that of a young Cornish girl whose grave is in a cemetery on a Mexican hillside. On the feast Day of the Dead, when the locals celebrate their dead, the various strands of the novel come together hauntingly, bringing Eric face to face with his past and the reality of his present in a moment of quiet, powerful epiphany. Restrained, controlled, with splashes of exuberant colour and darker violence, this is a magical novel of strange elegiac beauty.