Its atmosphere somewhere between "Apocalypse Now!" and the 'magical realism' of stories by Marquez and Cortazar, this ambitious novel is an extended meditation on love and power. The war depicted is another U.S. 'police action,' this time in the South American jungle. Neither the conflict nor the technology would be unimaginable in today's world, but there's a twist: the war that seems to result from a revolution against oppression is actually the manifestation of a feud between two families, Sotomayor and Madradona, whose psychic powers are manifest throughout the world. The protagonists, David Mingolla and his soulmate Debora, have formidable psychic powers, cultivated by drug therapy administered by the mysterious Dr. Izaguirre.
Shepard's lush, lyrical prose is effective in describing the dense jungle landscapes and swirling psychic energies therein. He credibly conveys the interplay of powers, subtle and gross, that inform the relationships of his characters.
Life During Wartime
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All through the afternoon Mingolla listened and drank, and drunkenness fitted a lens to his eyes that let him see how these stories applied to him. They were all fables of irresolution, cautioning him to act, and they detailed the core problems of the Central American people who -- as he was now -- were trapped between the poles of magic and reason, their lives governed by the politics of the ultrareal, their spirits ruled by myths and legends, with the rectangular, computerized bulk of North America above and the conch-shell-shaped continental mystery of South America below. He assumed that Debora had orchestrated the types of stories that Tio Moises told, but that did not detract from their potency as signs: they had the ring of truth, not of something tailored to his needs. Nor did it matter that his hand was shaking, his vision playing tricks. Those things would pass when he reached Panama.
Mingolla acknowledged the greeting, but was mesmerized by the patterns of smoke and flame and shadow within the Barrio, a constant shifting of darks and lights so allied with fluctuations in the noise that it was several seconds before he could assemble a coherent image of the place. A forest of blackened beams supported the roof, lending perspective to what had at first seemed an infinite depth, and among the beams stood all manner of shelters: lean-tos, tents, huts, piles of brick hollowed by caves. The walls were the walls of small stucco houses with shuttered windows; in other parts of the Barrio, according to Mingolla's plans, were labyrinths of such houses, remnants of the town that had once occupied the land. Fires bloomed everywhere. Along the walls, in grills and oil drums. And the resultant light was a smoky orange gloom through which packs of prisoners shuffled, many with knives in hand.
He came around to cap-pistol noises, to a sky that was a hallucinatory blur of color. Reds, blues, yellows. He couldn't figure it out. Something odd lurched past, turning, staggering. Mingolla sat up, watched the thing reeling about the clearing. Matted with delicate wings, man-shaped, yet too thick and bulky to be a man. It screamed, tearing at the clotted wings tripling the size of its head, pulling off wads of butterflies, and then the scream was sheared away as if the hold had been plugged. Butterflies poured down in a funnel to thicken it further, and it slumped, mounded, its surface in constant motion, making it appear to be breathing shallowly. It continued to build, accumulating more and more butterflies, the sky emptying and the mound growing with the disconnected swiftness of time-lapse photography, until it had become a multicolored pyramid towering thirty feet above, like a temple buried beneath a million lovely flowers.