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This review first appeared in Aspect #64, March 1976. (A few minor edits were made in 2002, including the reference to Cormac McCarthy.)
Their paths cross and recross through the years as Julio descends the ladder of humanity form landowner to beggar to cripple to a form of living death; and Ricardo, guided by an ironic, Sophisticated, somewhat godless priest, struggles toward a thankless sainthood in service to the sick and dying. The characters emerge vivid, desperate, impulsive, passionate, against the background of a pitiless, intricately patterned universe, where holiness seems "no more than constancy of design."
The priest, Father Ferenza, adds an extra dimension to this well-told tale of simple people living out a complex fate. He makes explicit the issues of good and evil and destiny posed by the life of Ricardo, and reflects on the human condition with sharp cold thrusts, worthy of a character from Cormac McCarthy or Dostoyevsky.
"What is the use of life?" [asks Ricardo] "if there is no better life after this one?"The temptation is great to reread and to quote page after page:
"If you do not know the use of this life, what is the use of another one?" [replies Ferenza]
"Si, but," Ricardo said, feeling driven back on vague memorizations of answers, "is it not true that in the next world all things will be made clear?"
Father Ferenza regarded him for a moment with irritable interest. Then he said in a firm voice as if he were giving a direction in the road, "All things have already been made clear, Senor."
There was a note of authoritative bombast in his voice, half playful, half serious, and Ricardo could not decide whether he was a man of mystery or of light.