“Putting things into perspective” is probably one of the most loosely used phrases- at least in the corporate parlance. You might have most probably read in some magazine or a book or even more common from the preaching of spiritual gurus. But, there is no better way to use that phrase than the emotion you are left it when you finish reading “By Night the Mountain Burns”Week 20 Reading is a book from ‘Equatorial Guinea’ by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel- written in Spanish and translated to English by Jethro Sautar. I must confess that I never heard that there is a country called ‘Equatorial Guinea’, let be about Annobon province- where the story is set.
Book #: 20
Title: “By Night the Mountains Burn” by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, translated by Jethro Sautar
You cannot wait to commend the brilliant efforts by the author and the translator for bringing this to a written form and so being able to distribute to the world that is 5,000 miles apart (drawn based on longitudinal line).
Like the narrator puts his words on narrating this story in the book as:
“What I have spoken of is what I experienced, heard and saw when I was a child. It has never been put down in writing before, because, as I said, I am not a writer; nobody on the island is.”
This description is true for many more cultures which live on the same planet as we all do. The story demands attention. The culture and customs demand appreciation. The challenges encountered by the inhabitants’ demands compassion. As it turns out, the country is now severely challenged the rich corrupt government which led to the original author (Juan Thomas) to leave the country and move to Spain.
Even before I venture into my thoughts on the story, it would only be appropriate for me to thank two people in specific: Of course, Jethro Sautar– if not for his translation, I would have missed something valuable; and secondly Ann Morgan, for her recommendation as a part of ‘A Year of Reading the World” project.
The basic essence of the book is the narration of unnamed narrator, who is now an adult, recollecting his days of childhood. The people of the island referred to as ‘Atlantic Ocean Island’, have very specific customs. They are unapologetically unambitious- their pursuit is only for survival- for fishing.
The narrator describes the various aspects of the lifestyle – about the schools- where children find no valuable education, mountains – where nothing ever happen except for an event that changed his life, hospital – that lacks any medicine to cure even the simplest of the diseases and the church- the Padre doesn’t even act for the great good.
But, it is not all darkness around. The celebrations of events are unique – the canoe building – which is the most celebrated event. The offering to the Sea King where everyone offers according to their strength and the happiest events being- the week where loads of fishes and squids are swept to the shore. It was, even more, happier event given that the main source of food for these people is fish.
If not fish, then there is no food.
The narrator also describes three major events that shook not just him but the whole of that island – The night that burnt entire plantations on the mountain- the event where it all began, and so the title; then came the epidemic cholera- which took along with almost the entire village and the third being the influence of She-Devils on the lifestyle of islanders.
They are completely isolated from the communications of the rest of the world (as the narrator puts it we are not even sure how many countries are around us. But, we know there are many because of the boats that float into out coast to steal the fish – some of them are from friendly nations and some or not). It is such as shame since the present day situation is not much better either.
The writing is absolutely simple and even more direct. It moves in a swift – never pauses anywhere- even when the narrator describes the same event three to four times- just like a coffee shop conversation. The success of a translator depends on how honest will his writing be in translating the emotion of the story as the original author wants. Jethro Sautar is spot in his translation and also in this discussion with guardian where he says:
“It’s the translator’s job to translate a book’s words, but of course, you also have to translate cultures. You become informed about the author’s country and circumstances, and you become well acquainted with the author, especially if you’ve had to ask him a lot of questions for your translation. You become a source of hope in times of crisis, and although you haven’t asked for the responsibility, and you maybe find it daunting, you respond as best you can, because you’ve also become the author’s friend.”
Overall, “By Night the Mountain Burns” is an honest attempt to describe the culture from a world which we never knew existed. It might not feature in the “Must Read” Lists or “Creative Writing” recommendations due to its failure to stick to “rules of writing”- but, if you miss this, you are going to miss out something really valuable. It changes the way you understand the world around you and be more compassionate for the communities which do not have the luxury of so-called ‘sophisticated civilization’.
Aaale, toma suguewa,
Aaaalee, toma suguewa,