THE LONG NIGHT OF WHITE CHICKENS
Atlantic Monthly Press
Ms. Hen noticed this book in a used bookstore because she simply liked the title, which contains the word chickens. She wasn’t sure if she should purchase the book based only on this merit, but she read the back of the book, then the first page, and she decided that it would be worth taking a risk, and she was absolutely right in deciding this.
This novel is a complex web. It is a story of a complicated family, and a murder mystery. It is a story of love and betrayal. It is also a story about politics and status, and how messed up the world can be at times.
The story centers around Roger Graetz, a young man who discovers the woman who was his family maid, and somewhat of a sister, has been murdered in Guatemala. The novel meanders from Roger’s childhood growing up in a house in the suburbs of Boston in a fictitious town called Namoset, to his summers spent in Guatemala at his Abuelita’s house where he went to school. Flor de Mayo was hired by his grandmother to be the Graetz’s family maid, plucked from an orphanage and sent to live in the United States to help the mother, Mirabel, so she could spent her time in college.
Ira, Roger’s father, thought Flor should go to school, so she goes to kindergarten at the age of thirteen. Flor has a difficult time, but is talented enough to get accepted to Wellesley College at the age of twenty-two. Flor was the bright star that Roger was not. Roger did not get good grades in school, and was not as brilliant as Flor.
When Flor was murdered, she was running an orphanage in Guatemala City, helping children who were like her when she was young. She was not bitter that she had not been adopted, but was hired as a maid, but she flourished as only she could. There was something about Flor that was attractive to people, men especially, and she could hypnotize people without even meaning to. She had good intentions and those with good intentions often are misunderstood.
The title THE LONG NIGHT OF WHITE CHICKENS comes from the second section of the book when Roger’s friend Moya and Flor have dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Guatemala City, while he is supposed to be interviewing her for the newspaper where he works, and they end up telling each other their life stories. He falls in love with her. She likes him, but she has other things on her mind. At the end of the evening, after they had sat there and talked from six p.m. until around midnight, a live chicken delivery comes to the restaurant. Flor watches the chickens being dropped in the kitchen with fascination. Moya follows her into the kitchen, and watches the chickens with her.
Ms. Hen counted about twenty-three times chickens were mentioned in this novel. She was overwhelmed by the amount of chickens, but she almost expected that many from the title. Some of her favorite quotes are the following:
The Scandinavian employee at the orphanage while she was talking about Flor was described as such, ”The rims of her eyes and her nostrils were bright pink, as if she’d been crying a lot or suffering from allergies, and it accentuated her natural features that made her look like a big diaphanous, gold dusted hen.” Ms. Hen loves this description, and she can imagine her exactly.
Roger and Moya discuss Flor and chickens that surrounded her, Moya said, “Chickens also truly touched something deep inside her, from back in that time, vos.”
When Flor was about to leave the orphanage when she was about to leave for America, she was nervous and cried all the time, so she told Moya, “One of the other girls took me out to the yard behind the kitchen, woke up a chicken, and you know, holding it like this, rubbed it up and down my body.” Ms. Hen thinks this might be a Latin American way of giving someone good luck. And why wouldn’t a chicken rubbed against your body be good luck? Of course it would be!
Ms. Hen thought it would take a long time to read this book, since it is a large book. But she breezed right through it because it’s one of those novels that a reader can get inside and live in for a while. There’s a lot happening in this novel, so many stories are contained within it, it’s impossible to condense them all into one review. Ms. Hen recommends if you want to discover everything about THE LONG NIGHT OF WHITE CHICKENS, read it. She gives this book five feathers up.