Picks and Pans Review: The Long Night of White Chickens
This striking debut novel begins as a coming-of-age story—and ends as much more. Sure, it's plotted around the half-Guatemalan, half-American narrator's relationship with the Guatemalan orphan girl who came to live with his family. Yes, it covers the familiar ambiguities of complicated family relationships. Sex, friendship, growing up alienated—all familiar themes.
But Francisco Goldman, a Harper's magazine contributing editor and himself the son of a Guatemalan mother and American lather, pushes those themes further. Part nontraditional love story (the principals are never romantically involved), part mystery, this book is also an examination of polities—social, sexual and emotional.
Goldman tells the story of Flor de Mayo Puac, a Guatemalan maid brought to suburban Boston and transformed into a Wellesley College—educated "daughter." Highly intelligent and headstrong, Flor returns to Guatemala to run an orphanage; she is soon murdered there, posthumously accused by Guatemalan authorities of being a "baby seller."
But Roger knows better. His "sister" was incapable of such behavior. Or was she? To find out he sorts through the facts of Flor's life and through his own idealized memory. Roger learns that solving the mystery of who she was involves discovering some truths about himself and Guatemala as well.
Roger's emotional journey is a long one—and so is Goldman's novel, which is full of digressions and asides, many of them acidly observant. The Long Night of While Chickens is clearly rich enough to be savored for a similarly long time. (Atlantic, $21.95)