Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2015 shortlisted
Financial Times Translated Book of the Year 2014
By Night The Mountain Burns recounts the narrator’s childhood on a remote island off the West African coast, living with his mysterious grandfather, several mothers and no fathers. We learn of a dark chapter in the island’s history: a bush fire destroys the crops, then hundreds perish in a cholera outbreak. Superstition dominates: now the islanders must sacrifice their possessions to the enraged ocean god. What of their lives will they manage to save?
Whitmanesque in its lyrical evocation of the island, Ávila Laurel’s writing builds quietly, through the oral rhythms of traditional storytelling, into gripping drama worthy of an Achebe or a García Márquez.
- By Night the Mountain Burns was one of the titles in our Spanish Reading Group in Autumn 2012, captivating the reading group.
- If you had subscribed to And Other Stories before this book went to the printers, you would have received one of the first copies of By Night the Mountain Burns, in which all subscribers are thanked by name. Find out about subscribing to upcoming titles here.
- Read about Ávila Laurel’s hunger strike on the Guardian website, here.
- Read Ávila Laurel’s blog (in Spanish) here.
- Read an interview with Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel at Foyles.
- Read an interview with the translator, Jethro Soutar.
- By Night the Mountain Burns was included in The Independent’s round-up of international fiction in translation.
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 (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
- ‘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
- ‘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.’ IFFP Judge Helen Oyeyemi
- ‘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
- ‘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
- ‘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
- ‘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, 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 . . . 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
- Quietly crafted, like the canoe in the book’s opening pages; an illuminating read.”Library Journal
- ‘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
- ‘[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
- ‘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
- ‘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).
- [A]n unusual style, one that merits more than just one reading.’ World Lit Up
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