Picks and Pans Review: Little Star of Bela Lua

updated 08/22/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Luana Monteiro

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A mysterious sea creature appears in a small Brazilian village and begins working "miracles" on the naive townspeople. A young woman finds happiness traveling the country competing in poetry duels instead of getting married. A village priest questions the morality of converting unsuspecting natives during a missionary trip to the Amazon. So begins the title novella of this glorious debut from first-time author Monteiro, whose tales (including three accompanying short stories) are inspired by fables she heard as a child growing up in the Sertao, a remote region in Northeast Brazil.

Monteiro is at her best when exploring topics like spirituality, greed and the supernatural, but she also keeps it light: In the playful "Curado," an irresponsible doctor accepts alive turkey from a generous patient, and the thrashing bird damages his girlfriend's sports car after he leaves it in the trunk overnight. The book's strength, though, is the author's use of language. In the haunting "A Fish in the Desert," she creates images as crisp as the fried yucca root one wife makes for her brooding husband; in the life-affirming "Antonio de Juvita," she produces prose as intoxicating as the fermented Lazarus Juice an aged widow makes and sells in the story to help support her grown son. Describing the creature that visits the village in the beginning, she writes, "an intense brilliance emanated from [it]: radiant colors, like sunlight through stained glass." The same could be said of this sparkling book; beautifully written and wonderfully drawn, this Little Star is a wonder.

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