Of Giants and Other Men
Of Giants and Other Men begins and ends with an untimely death, but the middle is where the reader is well, and truly, hooked. The plot follows the overthrow of the Somoza family from its forty-nine-year dictatorship of Nicaragua by a group that, while not directly named as such, resembles the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), a socialist liberation group. On the sidelines, the peasants, who are oppressed by the Somoza family, fight back with what limited means they have in their possession. At the center of the storm is Tomás Cortés Delacorte, who, as a boy, was known as the son of a slaughtered revolutionary and in his middle-age, became known as the “dead tissue Doctor;” a quiet man with a penchant for the order found in the morgue. Fausto, Tomás’ wayward cousin, shapes the course of both of their lives as he grows from a disobedient boy to a man who finds purpose and a talent for torture after he joins Somoza’s army and refashions himself as “Lieutenant Knife.”
Yet, contrary to the evidence, this book spends less time on politically motivated external chaos than it does on the emotional labyrinth lying within each of its characters. Herein, both the trouble and strength of the book lies: Peek does not excel at elucidating complicated sociopolitical history, which does not bode well for a novel whose very structure depends upon it. The reader wishes that labels were applied to each faction, so that some order could be perceived through the messy chaos of politics and slaughter. A bit of historical background would also be helpful for those unfamiliar with Nicaraguan history.
But Peek’s knack for capturing a character’s inner struggles, combined with complex motivations, saves the book and boosts it to passable literary fiction. Peek possesses a neat hand for incorporating smaller, seemingly inconsequential, stories that add reality and attachment to even the most sideline of characters (e.g., a diary found in a burning village that tells of a woman, otherwise forgotten by time; a young woman whose unrequited love persuades her to rebel against her family’s expectations of marriage and childbearing, etc.).
Most memorable is Peek’s unique talent for capturing surroundings through the most under-referenced of senses: scent. The scent of an old book: “the bitter ripeness of coca beans and a hint of vanilla,” the scent of death: “[i]t would have smelled like unforgiven sins, if there were such smell,” the scent of first love: “soursop and lemon, the tangy scent that was mango. And then there was the smell of vanilla,” etc. These elements are where Peek shows the most potential to become a great writer, albeit one who would benefit from a plot not dictated by the concrete events of political history. Recommended for fans of literary fiction.
|Page Count||350 pages|
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