The Arid Sky

Written by Emiliano Monge Thomas Bunstead (trans.)
Review by G. J. Berger

Translated from the original Spanish, this novel presents, in an out of order, jumbled narrative, the important events from the violent life of Germán Alcántara Canero. Born in 1902 on a rural mesa somewhere in Mexico, he rises to gang boss and then “magistrate” of the region. Readers see his brutal father and fierce, though deaf, mother, his three wives, children, sisters, several murders close-up, and his confused dying just short of eighty years later.

Literary and often lyrical prose, better read out loud, holds the fractured work together (“Urged on by the failing light, by the sounds she cannot hear but can nevertheless sense, and by the violence of jabs ramming her insides… [mother] arraigns herself” [for the birth]). The story is enhanced by unusual, though always true, insights about those who lived in that hard place and time, “the majority of whom are believers in God but have also come to the conclusion that He is worthless.”

Characters drive some novels. Riveting plots impel others. As suggested by its title, this one is mostly an homage to the dry forever land and sky, the hot dusty air and constant insects and rats, scruffy dogs, coyotes and small mountain lions, to conditions that shape the souls of those who must live and try to survive there. The Arid Sky is not for readers looking for a good story. It is for those wanting an unusual, often captivating read.