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Divina Trace.

!Ay Dios mio shitong! Which is to say that my heart sank when I received Divina Trace-first because on the dust jacket George Plimpton described its author as the Caribbean James Joyce, and then because a quick flip through the book revealed both a family tree (always disconcerting, as though the author knew readers would need all the help they could get) and 400-plus pages mostly in dialect (to say nothing of a silvered page in which I was enjoined to see me own monkeyface). But I was wrong to be dismayed, for Robert Antoni's first novel is a tour de force, relentlessly ambitious, and highly entertaining from start to finish.

Set on a small Caribbean island and spanning centuries-from the. pre-Columbian past to the present-Divina Trace delivers a tragicomic creation and deflation of a monomyth amalgamating Amerindian, African, Hindu, Muslim, and Catholic stories to conjure a divine mother-goddess or saint-who gives birth to a "crapochild" (that is, a child half human, half frog). Trying obsessively to make sense of the past, to separate fact from fiction, and to understand both his own role in and the significance of the story he is telling, Antoni's ninety-year-old narrator is occupied throughout most of the book with this woman's most recent (Catholic) incarnation, which took place when he was a boy and the details of which he attempts to piece together (in a manner reminiscent of Absalom, Absalom!) from accounts offered up over the intervening years by family members and acquaintances. It is a story rife with magic, superstition, and colonial history; a story whose thematic concerns trace the thin lines dividing memory and imagination, history and myth, belief and understanding, dream and reality; a story that asks finally whether each of us might be less the dreamer than the dream.

But I hesitate to say more along such thematic lines for I would hate to suggest Divina Trace is an arid exercise in fictionalizing Joseph Campbell. It is as well an immensely frustrating novel, an immensely charming novel (thanks in large part to Antoni's expert handling of dialect and knowledge of the Caribbean), and an immensely frustrating novel to review in a few hundred words. I hope this book selis like snowcones in the tropics.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Horvath, Brooke
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Words:374
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