The Underside of Stones
He wakes before the sun. Washes, boils water for coffee—
The world shakes. Walls sway, graceful, mysterious. For more than three minutes.
He runs to the rooftop patio. People, on the street, in the plaza. On the cathedral dome the clock has stopped at 7:19.
It will remain 7:19 all year.
Jorge, a criminologist who divides his teaching time between Montreal and Boston, has arrived in Mexico at the moment of the great earthquake that destroyed much of Mexico City. He is mourning the death of his wife. Northern measured time, clock time, has stopped for him. But a new world is about to open, a world where the dramatic is normal and legends become palpable reality. Over fourteen episodes, each a cohesive narrative, he becomes transformed and newly alive.
“The Underside of Stones is, literally, a wonderful book…. And the stories told to Don Jorge by the people of Michoacuaro remain long in the memory with the clear intensity of recounted miracles.” —Globe & Mail
Mexico, 1990. The ruling political party is riddled with corruption, the federal police has been corrupted, even the local cops are corrupt. But Pepe Nitido battles these authorities in Michoácharo where he lives, and has been elected mayor on a reform ticket. Jorge, his Montreal friend who knows the town well from an earlier visit, must come again to Mexico for the inaugural fiesta!
But by the time Jorge, a university criminologist, arrives in Mexico, Pepe has disappeared. Kidnapped? Dead? Despite better instincts telling him not to get involved in the intrigues and conspiracies of this deeply foreign culture, Jorge begins a search for Pepe.
With the help of Felicio, a ninety-year-old doctor with a mind as clear as the finest tequila, Irini, a beautiful and clever woman with wide opal-green eyes, Ali Cran, a trickster and con-man who knows all people have not five but ten senses, and the often unscrupulous chief of police Rubén Reyes Ponce, Jorge confronts dangers he doesn’t understand, antagonizes forces that want to get rid of him, and discovers a criminal underside of a Mexico which till now had only enchanted him. He also discovers, in himself, strengths and abilities he didn’t know he was capable of, and in Michoácuaro a complexity and wholeness till then invisible to him.
“What Szanto has done is to create a wonderfully rich and detailed story that alternates between extreme tension and sheer comic absurdity. In doing so, he succeeds in evoking that addictive mix of the astonishing and the commonplace that has always made Mexico so fascinating.” —Vancouver Sun
The Condesa of M.
Think back 250 years. A man has been tied up, a human bundle inside a soaked cow skin. Swinging from a gibbet in a Mexican courtyard, the skin shrink-dries slowly. An elegant woman watches as, over a week, the skin crushes him to death.
Think of the present. A plane lands in Mexico City on an unusually clear evening. A criminologist whose Mexican friends call Jorge, his new wife Rissa and her daughter Kiki disembark for a two week honeymoon. On the side, acting for International PEN, he’s been asked to deliver a check to a lawyer for the defence of an imprisoned novelist-priest.
Cutting between the 1750s and the present, The Condesa of M. explores Mexico’s dark religious underworld. The story interweaves historical betrayal, modern-day justice and the search for shrouded truths.
“Szanto’s writing is fluid and filled with expression, and there is no lack of action. Lovers entwine, wives are beaten, babies are born, a man is tortured, and there’s even a kidnapping, yet exposing these plot points doesn’t begin to give the stories away….This novel is ultimately satisfying while leaving some questions tantalizingly unanswered.” —Times-Colonist