Sunday, August 20, 2006

La isla de la pasion- novel by Laura Restrepo

La isla de la pasion- "the isle of passion" is the work of the Colombian writer Laura Restrepo, one of my favourites. This novel is different from the four other works of her. Firstly this is a story based in Mexico. Her previous books were all on Colombia. Secondly in this book there is no magical realism. It is pure reality, based on history. All the characters, dates and most of the incidents are real. Laura has woven a poignant and moving story out of history.

The story takes place in Clipperton Island, a tiny and isolated and uninhabited piece of island, off the Pacific coast of Mexico. The only inhabitants are crabs moving on mounds of bird droppings. The island is surrounded by corals and sharks. The heat of the sun, the noise of the waves and the stink of the bird droppings make the island uninhabitable. There is no shade, shelter or plants or animals.

Capt Arnaud, an indisciplined military officer is sent to the island as governor. He lands with his wife Alicia and a dozen soldiers and their families. The only other inhabitant is Schultz, a half- German, managing collection and shipment of bird droppings for use as fertiliser. Even this stops after more profitable sources are found elsewhere.

Capt Arnaud and his people start life from a scratch in the island like Robinson Crusoe. Initially it is adventurous. But when the supply ship does not come, they run out of food and water. The fight for survival starts. The hurricane and tidal waves wipe away the hutments and stored materials. The hunger and misery turns people into animals. Diseases makes people ugly and unbearable. Deprivation leads to delirium. Even Capt Arnauld goes mad and perishes while chasing an imaginary ship.

Amidst the misery, there springs love and romance. Arnaud and Alicia discover each other. Heroism and pride takes over hearts and minds even when there is utter hopelessness. When an American ship offers rescue, capt Arnaud and his people refuse to go, abandoning their patriotic duty to protect the Mexican territory. But the Mexican military and administration is caught in a turmoil and forget the little useless island and the wretched inhabitants. Through all the adversity Alicia maintains her dignity, balance and wedding dress. At the end, only the fittest survive. Who were the fittest? Of course the women. Five of them survive while all men perish. Ang there is one more survivor... a black man. But he is killed by the women when he starts tormenting them.

A remarkable story, which stirs the soul.

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