My rating: 4-1/2 of 5 stars
It's 1993 in Central America. Eva is a top war photographer who has taken an unusual assignment, aiding a taciturn Dutch Mayanist in his research in the great pyramids of Tikal. That's because her brother, an idealistic priest, has disappeared and no one seems interested in finding him. Undaunted and feeling qualified to explore rough areas because of her war-time experience, Eva uses this job as cover to search for her brother.
"Jan," I asked casually, "is this one of the glyphs that has been translated?"
He paused over the tripod, as though considering whether or not this information might ruin me as an accomplice, then said, "It has."
"What does it mean?"
He paused again, this time looking at Rikki, who was clearly dying for me to know, then gave an exasperated sigh. "It has several meanings. It is a very common glyph--you find it almost everywhere, including in some month names, some god names, and in a lot of the iconography. Nothing mysterious."
"The most common meaning seems to be k'in, which refers to the sun," he added reluctantly. "Also, time in general. And k'in is the name for day. So you can see this is a very mundane sort of glyph, really."
Which is why, I thought, we just army-crawled thirty yards to get to this chamber. Which is why we are hiking around in the middle of the jungle at night and poor Rikki is probably going to die of pneumonia.
She is unwillingly sucked into her employer's family life as she works with his likable son and meets his wife. This just adds to the list of mysteries she can't solve as their relationships seem too complex for a normal family. Meanwhile, as Eva reads an old stack of her brother's letters, we learn of her own mysterious background, much of which she is only coming to terms with as her journey continues.
A lot of this book is infused with questions and conversation about faith. As Eva encounters revolutionaries and ordinary folk, the information she has picked up from her brother's own spiritual growth suddenly begins to be applicable to a lot of different situations in very interesting ways. All this is done without hitting the reader over the head with a religious hammer, which I appreciated.
I myself really enjoyed this book and finished it several months ago but I have not reviewed it until now because I wasn't sure how to describe it. The fascinating blend of treasure hunt and South American revolution made me read the story quickly, but I never felt worried about Eva's safety. In fact the book left me feeling almost detached from any emotional reaction to the storyline.
Perhaps the best comparison I can come up is to Silence by Shūsaku Endō. That is a book about danger, adventure, faith, and religion which is written in what an English teacher pal of mine described as "classical" ... meaning that they keep you detached from visceral reactions to physical events. I appreciated that very much when reading Silence.
There are some wonderful moments in the book that resonated with my own Catholic journey closer to God. Most of them were contained in Eva's brother's letters. Here's a sample:
It was Fr. Anthony, back in Chicago, who wrote to me that I should read the nouvelle theologians ... for the first time, things began to light up for me. I don't mean intellectually, though that too, but spiritually. If the entire cosmos is an outward and visible sign of God's love, then evil, no matter how destructive, does not win out in the end. It can't.Huston's book is very much her own creation and I would be interested to see what she does fiction-wise in the future. I want to read A Land Without Sin again sometime now that I have the storyline in mind so that I can take in the spiritual elements enfolded throughout. I highly recommend it for an interesting story with lots of food for thought.
For the first time, I started to feel genuine joy in being alive. How could you not when everything around you, every rock and tree and human being, is in some way participating in a heavenly reality? Everything thrumming with the echoes of its own original name the name by which God spoke it into existence? The mystery of the world had always frightened me, but now I began to see this mystery as marvelously beautiful, even more beautiful than the loveliness of the created realm. I understood that the mystery of the world was connected to the invisible reality of which it was a sign ...
A note on the book itself: I loved the texture of the cover and highly approved of both the silver foil stamping on the cloth cover and the high quality of the paper inside. (Those who know me, know I do not give these accolades lightly.) I think this is a new publisher or imprint and they did a great job on the book itself.