Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, by John Horner Jacobs

Harper Voyager, ISBN 9780062880819, October 2018

The time of this story is presumably in the mid-eighties, though that's never explicit, except that key past events happened in the early 70s.

Isabel Certa and Rafael Avendano are two very different survivors of a violent coup and brutal junta in their home country, a fictional country in South America, near Argentina. Rafael Avendano is older, a poet, who had never been overtly political, but who had been close enough to the former, socialist, president of the country that he was damned by association in the eyes of the new rulers. Isabel Certa is younger, lost her mother and the rest of her family in the violence of the coup, and when we meet the two in Spain, she's teaching literature at a university.

When she meets an older, one-eyed man in the plaza during her lunch, at first she doesn't know who he is. He is, after all, believed to be dead.

They begin an odd sort of friendship. This leads, first, to him sharing his work with her. It's startling, gruesome, shocking. There's a translation he's working on, which is deeply unsettling. And there's his memoir of his experiences during the coup. In some ways, that's even worse.

Then he asks her to stay in his apartment and feed his cat while he goes back to Magera, looking for someone he lost during that time. She reminds him he'll probably get killed. He goes anyway--and she doesn't find out till he's gone that he's arranged for his bank to pay her an extremely generous monthly stipend. He had told her to feed his cat, Tomas, "for your protection," and Tomas does prove to be a big, black bruiser of a cat. But what is he going to protect her from

While continuing to read his translation and his memoir, Isabel also continues to teach her classes, see her girlfriend, Claudia, and have ups and downs in their relationship as Claudia is also happily involved with Laura.

And we continue to learn more, through the memoir, of what happened to Avendano during the coup.

It turns out there is something that Tomas needs to protect her from, and it's not of the mortal world.

Jacobs gives us a strong, capable woman, secure in her sexuality at a time when that was still dangerous. When she needs to confront the threats out of her own past, and out of Avendano's, she's tough, smart, resourceful. Avendano is also interesting and complicated.

This is an excellent novella.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.