Monday, July 16, 2007

One Big Damn Puzzler

One Big Damn Puzzler, by John Harding
$10.17 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 0061132187
A funny, fascinating, and touching new novel, certain to make a relaxing and enjoyable summer read.
It takes place on a remote island in the South Pacific. Home to a gentle yet somewhat primitive race, their land was visited twice by westerners: once by the British who started building a resort hotel, but abandoned it as the project became too expensive; and a second time by Americans who tested missiles and planted landmines, carelessly butchering many of the inhabitants who now live with missing limbs.
William Hardt is an attorney, about thirty years old, who visits the island to collect information about the suffering of the natives after the American bombing. He's hoping to win reparations for them from the US government.
William, however, suffers from OCD. The most outstanding characteristic of his condition is the amount of time he spends checking to make sure he's done things: checking to make sure his appliances are turned off, his windows are locked (he has a ritual of opening the window then closing it again, to make sure it's really closed).
Finding himself on an island where everyone poops on the beach together in the morning and the natives wear only a pubic leaf is a real challenge for him.
As for the islanders themselves, there's an amputee named Managua, the only native who can read. He spends his days translating Hamlet into the pidgin-English language of his people. There are, strangely enough, transvestites here, as well as sorcerers and mysterious ghosts who appear to dead loved ones.
The only other white person is an anthropoligist named Lucy, who lives in the abandoned British hotel and studies the customs of the islanders. There's more to Lucy's story than she lets on, however: she's on the run from dark secrets of her own.
One Big Damn Puzzler is a very imaginative work of fiction. The natives, in spite of their suffering, lead very simple and happy lives. One has to wonder how their condition would really be improved if William manages to win a large amount of money for them. Will the cross-dresser find true love? Will Managua be able to translate Shakespeare into a language his neighbors will be able to understand?
Easy to get into, with an unforgettable cast of characters and a story that grows more fascinating on each page. A new author presents a sure-fire crowd pleaser!

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