By Paula Huston
Slant, $27.00, 312 pages
In 1993, a priest disappears into the jungle of Southern Mexico. Political tensions are running high between various factions, and the Catholic Church is unwilling to seek or provide satisfactory answers concerning the priest’s disappearance. The priest’s sister Eva, however, will stop at nothing to discover her brother’s fate. A photojournalist well-acquainted with war and suffering, Eva hires on with a Mayanist named Jan as a cover for her search. In documenting Mayan hieroglyphics to provide evidence for Jan’s secret thesis, Eva cannot prevent herself from becoming entwined in Jan’s family’s private drama. At the same time, she works through her own experience as a child of an immigrant family with its own secrets.
In this novel, Huston pulls together wildly divergent elements from the Mayan downfall to Croatia in the 1930’s and modern Latin American political struggles to Quaker religious thought into a satisfying, cohesive whole. Furthermore, Huston writes wonderful, real characters. For example, Eva has an unrepentant edge about her, while Jan appears distant and dour until his inner conflict is revealed. Huston provides neither character simple solutions, instead masterfully permitting both characters to grow over the course of the novel in a realistic way. A Land without Sin has a richness and depth that should not be missed.
Reviewed by Annie Peters