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). His Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-shortlisted novel By Night The Mountain Burns (Arde El Monte De Noche) was 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.
The Gurugu Pledge
By Night the Mountain Burns
- Translated by Jethro Soutar.
- Read about Ávila Laurel’s hunger strike on the Guardian website here.
- Read an interview with Ávila Laurel in the Irish Times.
- Read Ávila Laurel’s blog (in Spanish) here.
Praise for Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel and By Night the Mountain Burns
- ‘As a person, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel is gentle, open and funny. As a voice, he is brave, angry, uncompromising. Here is the voice of someone who has courted and suffered persecution for the sake of a better world. How will he be remembered in the end – as revolutionary or martyr? Juan Tomás is not likely to disappear quietly.’ William T Vollmann, author of Europe Central
- ‘Here 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.’ Helen Oyeyemi
- ‘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 (Best Books of 2014)
- ‘[Ávila Laurel is a] leading light of the Equatorial Guinean literature movement.’ The Guardian
- ‘Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel offers [a] plain style, grown out of the native oral tradition of storytelling. By Night the Mountain Burns is a collection of childhood memories, a working through of hardship and superstition.’ The Independent
- ‘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
- ‘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
- ‘Poignant . . . 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
- ‘This translation by Jethro Soutar offers a glimpse into the joy and struggle of [the Annobón islanders’] isolation.’ Minneapolis Star Tribune
- ‘[The novel’s] strength lies in the complexity of the social commentary that runs beneath the plot . . . incisively exposing the difficulties with cultural transmission, interpretation and ownership.’ Mona Moraru, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette
- ‘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
- ‘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
- ‘Reads 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
- ‘A fascinating tale.’ Buzz
- ‘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.’ Patricia Duffaud, The Bookbag
- ‘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
- ‘Beautifully 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
- ‘Melodic . . . 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
- ‘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 . . . Absurdly funny and abundantly detailed.’ Tobias Carroll, Barnes and Noble
- ‘Ávila Laurel weaves a fascinating tale of island life, poverty and isolation . . . enchanting and absorbing . . . A fabulous book and one that has been expertly translated.’ 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
- ‘A powerful testimony to both the way of life of the community and their ability to endure. Thanks to the publishers And Other Stories for bringing this book to us in English.’ Peakreads
- ‘Enticing, suspenseful . . . 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. A beautiful novel that provides an intimate introduction to the struggles and pleasures of life on Annobón.’ The Globally Curious (IFFP Shadow Jury)
- ‘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)
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