By Night The Mountain Burns is the story of a remembered childhood living on an Island off the West Coast of Africa. The narrator’s childhood is coloured by a murky period in the island’s history whose origins the narrator seeks and speculates upon forcing the story into a cyclical song-like pattern where repetition brings revelation and rhythm. Apparently simple, this resonant eloquence is enticing, suspenseful and offers history a flavour of myth.
Island life is ruled by suspicion and full of characters whose mystery is magical not just because the narrator remembers them through the eyes of childhood. We wonder what happened to the grandfather who shaves his hair only on one side, who rarely talks or comes downstairs and who built his house facing the mountain not the sea. We want to understand what makes the she-devils, women who grow so hot they bathe naked in the sea at night and gain evil powers. And while this seems like a safe magical place, full of ritual and song, the story circles around the public hounding and murder of a woman, the death of a child, the burning of plantations and the terrible spread of cholera. So whilst a feeling of the magical real and the haze of events seen through memory can create a sense of safety, of distance, the heart of the story is about the culpability of the witness and the true evil that resides in watching and doing nothing, a message very close to the bone.
Whether you chose to hear this message, or simply enjoy a journey, By Night The Mountain Burns is a delight to read.
Next week I’m reading Your Father Sends His Love by Stuart Evers.