Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel was born in 1966 in Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country. His parents were from the remote Annobón Island, off the African coast. His books include the novel Avión de Ricos, Ladrón De Cerdos (The Pig Thief And The Rich Man’s Aeroplane) and the short story collection Cuentos Crudos (Raw Tales). By Night The Mountain Burns (Arde El Monte De Noche), his most recent novel, is based on his memories of growing up on Annobón.
Ávila Laurel has been a constant thorn in the side of his country’s long-standing dictatorial government. A nurse by profession, for many years he was one of the best known Equatorial Guinean writers not to have opted to live in exile. But, in 2011, after a week-long hunger strike in protest against Obiang’s regime, timed to coincide with the President of Spain’s visit to Equatorial Guinea, Ávila Laurel moved to Barcelona. He writes across all media, in particular as a blogger, essayist and novelist.
By Night the Mountain Burns
- Translated by Jethro Soutar.
- Read more about By Night the Mountain Burns in the book section.
- By Night the Mountain Burns was one of the titles in our Spanish Reading Group in Autumn 2012.
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- Read about Ávila Laurel’s hunger strike on the Guardian website, here.
- Read Ávila Laurel’s blog (in Spanish) here.
- An early collection of Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel’s short stories and poetry is published online in Spanish: http://www.guineanos.org/
- Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel was the cover star of the September 2012 World Literature Today magazine: http://www.worldliteraturetoday.com/2012/september
- Read an interview with Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel at Foyles.
- Read an interview with the translator, Jethro Soutar.
Praise for By Night the Mountain Burns
- ‘The volcanic island of Annobón, off the west African coast, provides the setting for this novel about a poor community facing a series of natural disasters. Survival, hope and despair wrestle in this surprising work by Equatorial Guinea’s leading author.’ Angel Gurria-Quintana, Financial Times (Chosen as 1 of 7 FT Translated Books of the Year 2014)
- “Linguistic play and rhythm are clearly important to Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, that they are effectively conveyed in Jethro Soutar’s eloquent translation … It has been shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize: a recognition it richly deserves.” Times Literary Supplement
- ‘In this poignant novel by one of Equatorial Guinea’s most celebrated authors, a series of tragedies strikes a small Atlantic Ocean isle after a foreign fishing vessel appears off the coast… Laurel’s approach is ethnographic and uses an islander’s first-person perspective to provide brief histories of the culture, terrain, and habitat. Although the narrative voice is sometimes repetitive and intentionally elusive, the descriptions of the island’s creatures, customs, language, and lore lead to clever revelations in the plot. The choice in point of view is one of the book’s strongest aspects, and the unnamed narrator’s conversational, indirect style is fitting. This fascinating story emerges from the speaker’s inquiries into the identities and social laws of his community, and from his attempts to make sense of the calamities of his homeland.’ Publishers Weekly
- ‘Ávila Laurel’s novel tells of survival in fierce isolation, a place where the ocean provides the only horizon and is a source of the greatest hopes and the most awful fears.’ Alfonso Carnicero Izquierdo
- ‘It has fallen to Ávila Laurel to be the chronicler of Annobón, just as Derek Walcott is for St Lucia, VS Naipaul for Trinidad and Edwidge Danticat is for Haiti. To this list must now be added the name of Annobón, half-evoked and half-dreamed in Ávila Laurel’s unique language.’ JM Pedrosa
- ‘The Equatorial Guinean novel that has perhaps captivated me the most is By Night The Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel. It is a story of great mystery, but also a testimonial to life on Annobón Island. This real-life island seems to emerge from the sea like some Atlantic legend, but the harsh conditions to which the islanders have been subjected mean we’re a long way from charming tales of mariners and mermaids. In these large-leaved green forests, the horror stories are all too real.’ Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, El País
- “[The novel’s] strength lies in the complexity of the social commentary that runs beneath the plot…That is where the novel is at its best, in incisively exposing the difficulties with cultural transmission, interpretation and ownership…the novel isn’t about escapism, about disappearing into another world, it has to be understood and considered socially. That is where it shines.” Mona Moraru, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette
- ‘Reading [By Night the Mountain Burns], it’s hard not to feel the excitement that comes with discovering a great author; the rare exhilaration that strikes once every few hundred books … It is the perfectly pitched tone, however, and the simplicity of the recounting that make it a truly polished work … The result is a luminous tapestry of people reacting in different ways to the assaults of natural catastrophes, accidents and economic hardship.’ Patricia Duffaud, The Bookbag
- ‘Sometimes a novel will startle because it tackles a topic totally unknown to us or tells us of lives previously un-imagined. This is the case with By Night the Mountain Burns. However, what is most remarkable about Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel’s novel is how easy it is to slip into the story of a child growing up on an isolated island in Equatorial Guinea. We are not reading about mysterious ‘others’. We’re reading about people like ourselves, who live in a different place which has its own constraints – namely poverty and isolation.’ – The Bookbag, Top 10 Literary Fiction Books of 2014
- ‘[B]eautifully translated by Jethro Soutar … it weaves and digresses, adding a rich texture to the story. Like all the best stories it is one with humour, sadness, tragedy and mystery.’ Jo Harding, We Love This Book
- ‘A fascinating tale … Worth picking up for those interested in an unusual read.’ Buzz
- ‘[A] melodic text rife with images of hollowed canoes and mist-enveloped mountains that would be almost too mythical were it not for the hilarious commentaries of the speaker … Laurel’s novel entrances the reader with its vibrant sense of place … Reading By Night the Mountain Burns is like listening to an old man tell a story that is so clear to him that his eyes look out through his child self onto a world he no longer inhabits … It is not a text of voyeurism or tourism; it is a text for remembering together.’ Emma Schneider, Full Stop
- ‘[R]eads a bit like a short story … An episode swells and lapses, another swells in turn … All are related in the same clear, sparse voice.’ Angus Sutherland, The Skinny
- ‘By Night’s unpredictability yields moments of bliss, but there are horrors to be found as well. Ávila Laurel summons up the intimate details of a small society with mesmerizing precision and structure. … [B]oth absurdly funny and abundantly detailed.’ Tobias Carroll, Barnes and Noble
- ‘Heartfelt…Ávila Laurel has given us a fascinating insight into the struggles, setbacks and occasional triumphs of daily life on the island of Annobón and his limpid tale is only enhanced by the crystal-clear translation of Jethro Soutar.’ New Internationalist
- ‘Ávila Laurel weaves a fascinating tale of island life, poverty and isolation … enchanting and absorbing … It is a fabulous book and one that has been expertly translated. Well worth a read.’ Booktrust
- ‘[A] lyrical evocation of quite another world, with plenty to chuckle at and be troubled by along the way. Thronged with suspected sorceresses and a sense of the supernatural, this book weaves a kind of magic. Abandon any assumptions you might have about what a story is at the title page and dive right in.’ A Year of Reading The World
- ‘Ávila Laurel is a brave opponent of the corrupt Obiang regime in his native land. His dark, troubled narrative of “our Atlantic Ocean island” is remarkable, original and poetic.’ Tom Moriarty, Irish Times
- ‘[H]ere a delightfully candid, deceptively sober narrative voice weaves brief histories of a collective existence shaped by living on the shores of a sea that does not (or will not?) provide sufficient sustenance.’ IFFP Judge Helen Oyeyemi, Booktrust
- ‘[A] leading light of the Equatorial Guinean literature movement, whose novel By Night the Mountain Burns tells of a childhood on a remote west African island’ IFFP Longlist Announcement, The Guardian
- ‘This translation by Jethro Soutar offers a glimpse into the joy and struggle of [the Annobón islanders’] isolation.’ Minneapolis Star Tribune
- This is impressively sustained throughout the book and consistently and smoothly rendered by the translator, Jethro Soutar … a powerful testimony to both the way of life of the community and their ability to endure. Thanks to the publishers andotherstories for bringing this book to us in English.’ Peakreads
- ‘[T]his resonant eloquence is enticing, suspenseful and offers history a flavour of myth … Whether you chose to hear this message, or simply enjoy a journey, By Night The Mountain Burns is a delight to read.’ Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone
- ‘More than anything else, this novel demonstrates the delicate balance between humans, crops, the ecosystem, and the gods that needs to be maintained in such a small, isolated community … This is a beautiful novel that provides an intimate introduction to the struggles and pleasures of live [sic] on Annobón.’ The Globally Curious (IFFP Shadow Jury)
- “Written with a childlike innocence but containing a wealth of information and childhood memories, this, at time repetitive, tale gives us a strong sense of place and culture. A replication of the strong history of oral storytelling you are drawn into our narrator’s story as though you were sitting on his porch”. Messybooker (IFFP Shadow Jury )
- “By Night the Mountain Burns is what might be termed anthropological literature, the primary purpose being to transport the reader to an alien culture.” Grant Rintoul, 1streading (IFFP Shadown Jury).
Booksellers’ Praise for By Night the Mountain Burns
- ‘Cannot praise And Other Stories enough for publishing Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel’s By Night the Mountain Burns: never read anything like it.’ Jonathan Ruppin, Foyles
- ‘Annobón, where Ávila Laurel was born, is a remote island in the south Atlantic forming part of the nation of Equatorial Guinea. His fictionalised account of his childhood there employs a striking voice, adult revisionism of his child’s-eye perspective, trying to make sense of a culture where the primitive – bartering is still preferred to money – rubs up against the intrusions of the industrialised world.’ Jonathan Ruppin, Foyles bookshop, Best Fiction of 2014