Messenger, The

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9780060929619: Messenger, The

Set in Cuba, The Messenger tells the story of a pair of doomed lovers-world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso and his Chinese-Cuban mullatta mistress. In June 1920 a bomb exploded at the Teatro Nacional in Havana at the very moment that Enrico Caruso was singing Radamès in the opera AÏda. In a panic, he fled the theater and disappeared into the streets of Havana. What happened to him is the story imagined by Mayra Montero. As Caruso tries to escape the murderous agents of the Black Hand, he is drawn into a passionate love affair with Aida Cheng, a woman whose godfather is the powerful Afro-Cuban santero José de Calazán. Told by Enriqueta, the daughter born of the love affair, and by Aida herself as she lies dying many years later, The Messenger unfolds its mysteries against the rhythms of African santería and Chinese folk magic and weaves a brooding, compelling tale of love and death.

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Review:

Here are the facts: in June of 1920 the legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso arrived in Havana, Cuba, on tour. During a matinee performance of Aïda a bomb went off in the Teatro Nacional, and Caruso, in a panic, rushed out into the streets of the city and disappeared for several days. Taking off from this historical footnote, Cuban-born writer Mayra Montero has impressively imagined what might have occurred during the singer's "lost weekend." The Messenger is narrated by Aida Petrirena Cheng, a Chinese Cuban mulatto woman whom Caruso literally runs into just moments after the explosion. If the singer is shocked by events, Aida is not; she has already been warned by her godfather, a Santería priest, that a man "will come to crown you and tell you that you are the queen of his thoughts. Before that you will hear the thunder, the walls will fall down, there will be dust and fire." She instantly recognizes that Caruso is the man of her godfather's vision, and with that recognition comes a frisson of fear, for old José de Calazán Bangoché had given another warning.

"On that day--listen carefully--take your protection out of your clothing and put it over your hair. Then you bring me that man, you will have to bring him to me." He picked up the ékuele and hid it between his hands. "He is coming to die. But if you don't want that, bring him to me right away, he will not die. Bring him so you won't be tainted. He is not coming to die: he is already dead when he comes."
Aida does as she is told, bringing Caruso to her godfather's house where she and the singer soon become lovers. As their love affair escalates, so does the danger--from the people Caruso believes are trying to kill him, but even more from the disease that is slowly consuming him.

Montero tells this star-crossed tale from several perspectives: Aida, her daughter, Enriqueta, and the testimonials of several different witnesses to the events of that June day when the bomb first went off. Propelled by the rhythms of santeria, infused with folk lore and magic, The Messenger is a magical portrait of love that comes too late--and death that comes too soon. --Alix Wilber

About the Author:

Mayra Montero was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1952, but has lived in Puerto Rico since the mid 1960s. She studied journalism in Mexico and Puerto Rico and worked for many years as a correspondent in Central America and the Caribbean. She is presently a highly acclaimed journalist in Puerto Rico and writes a weekly column in El Nuevo Dia newspaper. Montero's first book was a collection of short stories, Twenty-Three and a Turtle. Her second book, a novel titled The Braid of the Beautiful Moon, was a finalist for the Herralde awards, one of Europe's most prestigious literary awards. Each of her subsequent books -- The Last Night I Spent With You, The Red of His Shadow, In the Palm of Darkness, and The Messenger -- has been published in the United States in translations by Edith Grossman, as well as in several European countries. Her other nonfiction work appears frequently in scholarly and literary publications throughout the world.

Edith Grossman is the distinguished prize-winning translator of major works by leading contemporary Hispanic writers, including Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Alvaro Mutis, and Mayra Montero. Her new translation of Don Quixote is Edith Grossman's excursion into the classic literature of an earlier time, a natural kind of progression in reverse. Now she employs her many years' experience translating modern classics to bring us an elegantly contemporary translation of Don Quixote.

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