Friday, March 23, 2012

The Boiling Season

The Boiling Season, by Christopher Hebert.

She continued to look out the window, seemingly deep in thought. And then she turned to me with a puzzled expression. "I'm surprised that you don't have more compassion. These are your people, after all."

"My people?" I said. Could she really not see the differences between them and me? I stammered on for a moment, but I saw no way to correct her without giving offense. All I shared with such ignorant people was an island. I did not see how the accident of my birth in this time and place compelled me toward loyalty with others simply because they share the same fate. If I must be assigned a people, why could those people not be Senator and Mme Marcus instead? Or even Mme Freeman herself? People who had worked hard to achieve their success.

Imagine my surprise when I received a copy of this novel and saw that two of my former professors at the University of Michigan, Laura Kasischke and Peter Ho Davies, had written two out of the six "blurbs" on the back of the book. I soon learned that Christopher Hebert is an alum of U of M's MFA program, which is very hard to get in to (I was rejected, as I was one of 800 applicants that year, with 10 fiction writers ultimately chosen). It comes as no surprise, then, to quickly find that The Boiling Season was a very good read.

The book is complicated and has many layers, so to save some time here's the synopsis from the publisher:

"Alexandre wants more from life than the gang-controlled slums of his childhood can offer. At nineteen he finds work as valet to an important senator, and ambitiously parlays that position into one as caretaker of a derelict estate being developed by a wealthy American businesswoman. Alexandre's new home in the mountains outside the capital affords him sanctuary from the turmoil wrought by the dictatorial regime that controls the country. But, eventually, he can no longer keep the encroaching civil war at bay. Helpless when his utopia is invaded by an armed gang of the very slum-dwellers he has worked so hard to escape, he must choose between preserving his paradise and protecting his people."

Although the novel starts when Alexandre is 19, near the end of it he is entering his 40s or 50s, it's fascinating to see how much happens to him and to "his" estate during that time. I was actually thinking that the novel could be made into the movie, and then I started thinking about casting, but the author himself has already beat me to the punch: he wrote a blog post about actors he would like to see play his characters. He suggests Don Cheadle for Alexandre, but I was actually thinking more like Demian Bichir, from A Better Life, even though he is Spanish and not Haitian or African American. Hebert also suggests Anthony Mackie for Dragon Guy, one of the revolutionists in the novel, which I could definitely imagine.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions listed, however, are my own.


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