Montero, Mayra 1952–
Montero, Mayra 1952–
Born 1952, in Cuba.
Author and journalist.
Sonrisa Vertical Prize for erotic fiction, 2000, for Púrpura profundo.
La trenza de la hermosa luna, Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 1987.
Del rojo de su sombra, Tusquets (Barcelona, Spain), 1992, translated by Edith Grossman as The Red of His Shadow, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Tú, la oscuridad, Tusquets (Barcelona, Spain), 1995, translated by Edith Grossman as In the Palm of Darkness, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Como un mensajero tuyo, Tusquets (Barcelona, Spain), 1998, translated by Edith Grossman as The Messenger, HarperFlamingo (New York, NY), 1999.
Ultima noche que pasé contigo, [Barcelona, Spain], translated by Edith Grossman as The Last Night I Spent with You, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Púrpura profundo, Tusquets (Barcelona, Spain), 2000, translated by Edith Grossman as Deep Purple, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
El capitán de los dormidos, Tusquets (Barcelona, Spain), 2002, translated by Edith Grossman as Captain of the Sleepers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.
Son de Almendra, Alfaguara (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico), 2005, translated by Edith Grossman as Dancing to Almendra, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.
Author of weekly column for El Nuevo Día newspaper, Puerto Rico.
Mayra Montero is a Cuban-born author of novels and short stories. A resident of Puerto Rico since the mid-1960s, she is also a highly regarded journalist. Known for incorporating sexually explicit scenes into her fiction, Montero also takes pride in fashioning a distinctly Caribbean tone in her work. In an interview with School Library Journal, Montero discussed the influence of the Caribbean on her work: "You could say … that the Caribbean is in a way the spirit, the thread of all my stories. There are smells, music, color, noises, Caribbean flavors. The Caribbean and its circumstances have an extremely overpowering presence for those of us who write from these islands."
Montero's first work of fiction to be translated into English was the novel Tú, la oscuridad, which was published as In the Palm of Darkness in 1997. Edith Grossman, the acclaimed translator of this and several other novels by Montero, has also translated the works of such noted writers as Gabriel García Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. A New Yorker reviewer called the novel a "dazzling, original fugue on love and extinction," while in Booklist reviewer Brian Kenney commented that "with enormous skill, Montero weaves together several tales to create a brief and suspenseful story of contemporary Haiti."
In the Palm of Darkness finds American herpetologist Victor Grigg searching for the nearly extinct blood frog on the Mont des Enfants Perdus ("Mountain of Lost Children"), a region near Port au Prince. His elderly guide, Thierry Adrien, tells Victor tales about his own life in the town of Jeremie, his family, and the mysteries of Haiti. Adrien relates the fate of his father, a zombie hunter, who was found dead with the skin stripped from his body. Dr. Emile Boukaka, a surgeon and leader of a voodoo sect, is also an expert on frogs; he claims that Agwe Taroyo, the god of waters, has summoned the frogs to the bottom of the sea. As Grigg and Adrien explore the region in search of the purple frog, their camp is trashed, and they discover a plant biologist working in the area whose feet have been cut off. Working on the mountain, the domain of a chieftain who warns all to keep away, Grigg's quest for the frog is overshadowed by voodoo and violence.
Montero "confronts the modern Western way of knowing with an older, more universal kind," Richard Eder commented in his Los Angeles Times Book Review appraisal of In the Palm of Darkness. "Through the two men's doomed endeavor, through Thierry's tales and premonitions, and through Victor's increasingly distraught brooding about his childhood and marriage, the reader is taken on a double journey." Zofia Smardz praised Montero's prose in the New York Times Book Review, calling In the Palm of Darkness "a resplendent piece of writing that brings a mysterious and murderous country throbbingly to life." In a Library Journal review, Janet Ingraham dubbed the novel "a shocking, absorbing, beautifully written tale," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer added that, "thanks to Grossman's lovely translation, American readers can now enjoy this author's formidable talent."
In 1920, a bomb exploded in a Havana, Cuba, theater while the world-famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso was performing on stage. Caruso fled in fear, suspecting that the Sicilian "Black Hand" was after him. In The Messenger, Montero takes this fact and speculates as to what happened next. The story is told by Aida Cheng, daughter of a Chinese father and Afro-Cuban mother, as well as by Aida and Caruso's daughter, Enriqueta, thirty years later. Chapter titles are taken from the libretto of Verdi's opera Aida, prefiguring the fact that the couple's fate is doomed, as was that of Verdi's Aida and Rhadames. Caruso and Aida meet and become lovers when she helps him escape after the bombing. Her godfather, José de Calazan Bangoche, is a priest of the Santeria religion who speaks to the gods and foresees the future through a magic chain called the ekukele, or messenger. José knows what is to come and tries to prevent his goddaughter from saving the opera star.
In reviewing The Messenger, Booklist reviewer Lee Reilly called some of the minor characters "lively" while maintaining that neither Aida nor Enriqueta "are by themselves interesting." However, in World Literature Today, reviewer Lucrecia Artalejo commented on Montero's feminist slant, noting that Caruso is painted as "the very portrait of agony and despair due to his obsessions: a tremendous dread of losing his voice, and a fear of being killed by the Sicilian Black Hand…. His lack of physical and emotional stability contrasts with both Aida's determination to protect him and her endurance." "Montero's visions of intercontinental culture-clash, star-crossed lovers, and historical violence fully justify the operatic treatment she provides," opined a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Janice P. Nimura wrote of The Messenger in the New York Times Book Review that it is "a haunting duet that mixes Afro-Cuban ritual, Chinese folklore, opera, and documented history."
Montero's 2000 novel, The Last Night I Spent with You, focuses on a married couple who decide to go on a vacation after the marriage of their daughter. During the course of the trip—a cruise—troubles in the form of infidelities permeate their relationship, resulting in a sexually explicit novel that Booklist contributor Bonnie Johnston called "intensely passionate and disturbing." "Montero's deadpan humor sharpens her account of the passions of her middle-aged protagonists," added a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "and she adroitly establishes [the couple's] … separate viewpoints in her flexible, hypnotic prose."
In The Red of His Shadow, published in English in 2001, Montero delves into the mysterious world of voodoo. Set on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, home to the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the novel centers on Zulé, a young voodoo priestess threatened by a past association with a voodoo priest, Similá. Critics lauded Montero for her exploration of the world of voodoo and her handling of the themes of love, jealousy, and political treachery. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Jana Giles noted, "Moving between flashbacks to Zulé's youth and scenes of the present, Montero skillfully inserts voodoo rituals into the narrative as she draws out a tale of doomed passion and fatal pride."
Deep Purple, published in English in 2003, tells the story of a longtime music critic, Agustin Caban, who is commissioned by his newspaper to write his erotic memoirs. He dutifully relates his numerous affairs with musicians of both sexes—and even with an occasional animal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Montero's "arch, literate writing" and called the novel "a delectable treat from start to finish." The original Spanish-language version of the novel won the Sonrisa Prize for erotic fiction in 2000.
Montero's next novel, Captain of the Sleepers, published in English in 2005, is set on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in the 1950s, when the U.S. Navy took over much of the island for a military training base. This period also witnessed the rise of a nationalist movement in Puerto Rico. The novel's main characters, Andres and J.T.—the latter an American pilot who is the "captain" of the title—look back at their lives at mid-century from the vantage point of old age. In 1950, J.T. had an affair with Andres's mother, and the repurcussions of this affair have reverberated through the ensuing decades. As with Montero's previous novels, critics praised Captain of the Sleepers for its lush narrative, frank sexuality, and emotional complexity. "Exquisite flashes of lust and corrosive jealousy, among the adults and young Andres alike, vivify the narrative," commented a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Likewise, Hilda Llorens, writing in the Women's Review of Books, remarked: "Montero tells a brilliant story, skillfully using the past to narrate a tale of the present. With delicate and forceful prose, she evokes feelings of heartbreak and rage."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 1997, review of Tú, la oscuridad, p. 1284; May 15, 1997, Brian Kenney, review of In the Palm of Darkness, p. 1561; January 1, 1998, In the Palm of Darkness, p. 730; April 1, 1999, Lee Reilly, review of The Messenger, p. 1386; June 1, 2000, Bonnie Johnston, review of The Last Night I Spent with You, p. 1860.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1997, review of In the Palm of Darkness, p. 589.
Library Journal, April 1, 1997, Janet Ingraham, review of In the Palm of Darkness, p. 128; May 1, 1999, Lawrence Olszewski, review of The Messenger, p. 111; June 1, 2000, Yvette Olson, review of The Last Night I Spent with You, p. 200.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 18, 1997, Richard Eder, "Voodoo Child," p. 2.
New Yorker, August 25, 1997, review of In the Palm of Darkness, p. 160.
New York Times Book Review, June 15, 1997, Zofia Smardz, "A Nice Place for Extinction," p. 22; August 2, 1998, review of In the Palm of Darkness, p. 28; June 20, 1999, Janice P. Nimura, review of The Messenger, p. 16; August 12, 2001, Jana Giles, review of The Red of His Shadow, p. 29.
Observer (London, England), November 23, 1997, review of In the Palm of Darkness, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, March 31, 1997, review of In the Palm of Darkness, p. 61; March 22, 1999, review of The Messenger, p. 69; April 10, 2000, review of The Last Night I Spent with You, p. 72; June 2, 2003, review of Deep Purple, p. 35; February 2, 2004, John F. Baker, "Author Moves, with Translator," p. 14; July 25, 2005, review of Captain of the Sleepers, p. 42.
School Library Journal, August, 2002, "Chatting with Mayra Montero: The Celebrated Author's Latest Novel, El capitan de los dormidos (The Captain of the Sleepers), Is Receiving Critical Praise Internationally. Here Is What Montero Had to Say to Criticas," p. S8.
Washington Post Book World, December 25, 2005, "The Writing Life: A Prize-winning Translator and a Distinguished Cuban Novelist Share Ideas on How They Work," p. 10.
Women's Review of Books, March-April, 2006, Hilda Llorens, "The Power of Secrets," review of Captain of the Sleepers, p. 28.
World Literature Review, autumn, 1999, Lucrecia Artalejo, review of The Messenger, p. 708.
HarperCollins Web site,http://www.harpercollins.com/ (January 2, 2007), author profile.