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Si al atardecer llegara el mensajero.

Soledad Puertolas is a writer whose work has traditionally examined the larger issues of life: illness and death, solitude, men and women, friendship, the role of art in life. In her new novel, Si al atardecer llegara el mensajero, she chooses to explore the same issues through the prism of a hypothetical case: what if human beings were given prior knowledge of the exact date of their death? How would that knowledge affect the quality of their lives? Their relationships and decisions at any given moment?

Puertolas makes God a character in her novel, but she centers the fiction on Tobias Kaluga, a heavenly being of undefined nature. Disturbed by its potentially daunting effect on human life/lives, Kaluga questions and challenges God on the wisdom of that then-existing arrangement. Might it not be better not to know? God accedes to a reconsideration of the matter and sends Kaluga to earth to investigate, to test the advisability of a change. Kaluga is to remain on earth an unspecified amount of time (earth time and heavenly time are duly differentiated) and to take on an equally unspecified form or forms, male and/or female. Kaluga embarks on his "deambulacion por la tierra," and the narrator picks up his story well along in the course of the investigation.

The narrative is mysterious, tantalizing, possibly unsettling for the reader, depending on his or her inclination or aversion toward fiction postulated on fantasy. A first approach might in fact defeat one not so inclined. The persisting reader soon realizes that it is not an arbitrary or collective humanity that is the narrative focus but Tobias Kaluga himself. (The author plays with names and with indeterminate time and space to create lives that are mythified and essentialized despite the particulars of their very human circumstances.) After some apparently aimless wandering, Kaluga fixes his attention on one Arturo Nizranin. Their earthly lives intersect around an estate identified only as Casa Grande, its garden, and its inhabitants, present and past. They become inseparable until, inevitably, when they reach heaven, their responses to the human condition they have left behind bring surprising turns to their lives and to their relationship. Puertolas's characters in earlier novels often find themselves face to face with the human condition; their response, more often than not, is flight, denial. Not so this time. One of these figures, at least, having shared the pain of humanity, finds himself inextricably bound to the human world.

Puertolas's new novel is thus consistent with her preoccupations as a thinker and as a novelist. She continues to remain at a distance from her fiction and to eschew writing that might be construed as feminist, though she addresses the specificity of women's experience through the sympathetic analysis of that experience by Tobias Kaluga. What is new about Si al atardecer llegara el mensajero is Kaluga. Through the construction of this and other heavenly creatures, Puertolas is able to back off from the subject in the extreme, to view humanity completely from the outside. The view is thought-provoking, comprehensive, and compassionate.

Alice R. Clemente Smith College
COPYRIGHT 1996 University of Oklahoma
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Clemente, Alice R.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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