IFFP 2015 review: By Night The Mountain Burns

IFFP Shadow iffp2015logo

Time to start telling you a few words about the books I have been reading for the IFFP Shadow Panel.

First, I have already read and reviewed
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami,
tr. Philip Gabriel (Harvill Secker)

Incidentally, these IFFP posts will also be in praise of American Public Libraries: I got 4 books right away from my local library, and the others are coming through interlibraryloan, which is totally free as long as the book is in the state where I reside.
I got one book for free from Quercus!

Here is the fist book I got at my library.

By Night The Mountain Burns

By Night the Mountain Burns


By Night the Mountain Burns
(Arde el monte de noche)
by Juan Tomas Avila Laurel,
tr. Jethro Soutar

Paperback, 288 pages

Published November 6th 2014
by And Other Stories
ISBN: 9781908276407



This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

 New Authors 2015   2015 Translation

Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel was born 1966 in Santa Isabel, Spanish Guinea, now Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on the island of Annobón also known as Pagalu or Pigalu.
He migrated to Spain in protest of the current government in Equatorial Guinea.

This novel is an ode to his island in the Atlantic Ocean. Through this book, I liked discovering a culture I knew nothing about.

The writer/narrator addresses the reader, in the style of the oral tradition of his island. There are no real chapters. Like when you tell a story, one thing leads to the next, like a continuous flow of conversation.

It might be said that we children unleashed an evil by going into grand-father’s room. I wouldn’t say that, but it is true that the momentous thing began that day, after the funeral. I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember all the details but I’ll try to, and I’ll tell you as much as I remember. But I’ll do it slowly, like telling a ghost story under  a full moon, for it would be wrong to rush the telling of something so momentous.

The author evokes the legends and tales of his people, as well as their daily life so much focused on the ocean, the boats, the fish, the connection with foreigners coming to them and the dramatic consequences on their fate and culture.

The book also deals with mysteries children perceive in the world of adults, and how they try to interpret them. There is a reflection as well on evil and sins and our communal responsibility in them.

The book has a lot of potential. Even though the style could have been its very strong point, something felt really awkward, as the language seemed often much too refined, with high register vocabulary, which for me did not fit at all with the oral tradition style. This disconnect between style and vocabulary does not bode well for the short list of the IFFP, according to me. I have the feeling the main culprit is here is the choices of the translator. But it could be also my total lack of knowledge of that culture. The  constant repetitions at the beginning of the book especially really bothered me as well: too many paragraphs start with the exact same structure: “Does anyone know…?”


So far (follow its evolution after each of my IFFP reviews) my list in order of likes would then go like that:

  1. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami,
  2. By Night the Mountain Burns, by Juan Tomas Avila Laurel


To know more about the IFFP and the IFFP Shadow Panel, please see the other posts in this category



18 thoughts on “IFFP 2015 review: By Night The Mountain Burns

  1. Pingback: New Author Reading Challenge 2015 | Words And Peace

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  3. You may know that I am I am quite fond of this book although I realize it will not be to everyone’s taste. The voice is unusual in that , although it is deeply imbedded in an oral story telling tradition, you have an adult reflecting back on events that took place when he was quite young, sometimes making his adult commentaries on his original reactions to those events and the entire account is recorded and set down by an outsider. So it is a multi-layered take on the oral tradition. It is always hard to tell how much the translator’s choices come in to play but in this case the translator has written extensively about the experience and the challenges of working with an author who was in a precarious political position at the time.


  4. I know nothing about Spanish Guinea either, only as a stamp in my mother’s old stamp collection, from when she was a little girl, during the 30’s.Thank you for introducing us to different authors. This is one, that I would never had heard about otherwise.


  5. I wonder how much this novel is in the oral tradition (whatever that is)? It seemed to me that Avila Laurel sought to undermine our expectations at every turn, particularly in the bleakness of the content, the ignorance and superstition of the inhabitants and the lack of folk tales. I identified many of the faults you did, but cannot decide whether they are deliberately designed counter and confuse reader expectations!


    • hmm, interesting perspective I had not thought of. But the mix of Christian/pagan themes I found in the story were similar to stories I have heard directly from African friends myself, though from other parts of Africa


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  13. I recently read this book also. The higher level vocabulary didn’t really bother me, but I wonder if it contributed to my irritation at a couple of the narrative devices. Such as the repeated asking of “Have I told you this already?” when things are repeated. Obviously he knows that he has, because he only says that when he is in fact repeating himself! If the narration had been more child-like perhaps that wouldn’t have bothered me.


    • exactly. per se, I don’t mind high register of vocabulary, but it did not seem to fit with what he was trying to do, copying the oral style. Same thing with what you highlight, indeed these annoying repetitions could have work in other literary contexts, but not here


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