I have been spending time on the southern Baja California coast just south of the large city of La Paz. This novel is exactly about that area, and I find both highly appealing.
The setting is a village of Mexican fishermen and their families on the Sea of Cortez in the ‘60s before the advent of industrialized factory fishing. These folks are still hand-lining large fish for the local markets in a completely sustainable lifestyle.
In this context, the characterizations and complex backgrounds are compelling. For example, of his protagonists Author Kira creates a wonderful counterpoint of Past, Present and Future:
“As a commercial fisherman himself, Abundio could not resent those things. (The increasing use of gill nets by his fellows.) Did he not himself use every trick at his command, every day of his life, to catch as many fish as possible? How could he argue that other not do the same? ….Still, he knew that once the nets came to Agua Amargosa, the old ways would follow the fish into oblivion, and all of them would be caught in a maelstrom of change that would engulf them and send them spinning into an uncertain future.
“For Abundio and Chino and Ramon, the future seemed to offer nothing good. In fear of it they took refuge in the present as much as possible.”
Later, a Chubasco (hurricane) will serve as the perfect metaphor.
Here is a passage Kira uses to describe one character’s background in the US before electing to return to Mexico and become a fisherman. (“Chino” was raised as a non-papered immigrant in the central California agriculture vastness of the Imperial Valley. He is highly motivated as to his education and English-speaking ability).
“He hated the squalid anomie of the field camps, the having to keep his good clothes in bags and putting them on just before school in the mornings, the stealing of chickens and the baking of them, feathers and all, in balls of mud placed into the campfires.”
(I HAD to use that quote in my review because I have NEVER come across the word “anomie” in anything I have read – especially fiction – since I learned it and its meaning in a college sociology class).
Two other elements I found compelling: Firstly, his secondary character “Senor Pete”. He is a visiting sport fisherman from American, and an alumnus of my college (Brown, in Providence, RI (which Kira captures so perfectly that I thought that he, too, must be an alumnus). He first visits the fish camp before WW II, as a recent graduate, recovering from a marriage gone upside down. He leaves for service with the Navy or Marines in the Pacific. Later, he returns to the fish camp in the ‘60s under new circumstances, including as a further damaged man.
Secondly, author Kira wonderfully brings music into his writing via Fra Nacho, an ex-patriate man-of-all-seasons who resides in the fishing village, and is taken care of by the villagers. He provides them with a wonderful window into other cultures via his sharing his collection of antique records. These include Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto Number One in B-flat Minor and Mozart’s Symphony Number 38 in D-Major.
I think even the many folks out there who have not personally experienced Baja and its wonderful people will truly enjoy this wonderful story.