One Big Damn Puzzler

October 28, 2006

Imagine a small, remote, exotic and sweetly primitive island.

There live a whole bunch of good-natured islanders – some of them have somehow lost a limb or two. Among the characters, an old one-legged sorcerer, called Managua, that is trying to translate Shakespeare’s Hamlet into the local pidgin English in order to stage it for his fellow islanders; some suspicious-looking “girls” who get their flashy bras and shoes from a mysterious white Miss; another powerful sorcerer, some angry wives and some beautiful girls.

puzzler.jpgThe islanders have of course many taboos (for instance only men can eat a hallucinogenic sweet and get in contact with their dead relatives, or shit all together while exchanging amiable conversation in a social setting, on a beach that is subsequently washed at high tide…) but sex, or death, are not one of them. And magic seems still to work effectively.

There arrives a young American with an agenda, full of good intentions and affected by a somehow bearable form of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
His arrival starts a snowball series of events that, for better or worse, will change the life of everybody…

This is a terribly incomplete description of “One Big Damn Puzzler”, by John Harding (Black Swan, 2006).

The tale of how the islanders lose their innocence is full of inventiveness and packed with carefully intertwined episodes; drama, comedy and grotesque are perfectly mixed together: you laugh a lot, and, when it is time, you get moved to tears.
You can even read the best rendition of an attack of jealousy I’ve ever found in a book – it perfectly matched my own experiences in the field… 😉

And in the end Harding masterly manages to bring together all the lines he has thrown out: everything goes at its place, everything gets its proper conclusion.
You do not see this very often accomplished, and it is the sign of great authorship.

This is really one of the best book I’ve read in the last few years. Warmly recommended.

The title is nothing less than Managua’s translation of one of the most famous verses of the Great Bard:
“Is be, or is be not, is be one big damn puzzler…”

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