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Book Review: Salsa Nocturna

November 23, 2016

SNcover-front-1000.jpgSalsa Nocturna
Daniel José Older
Crossed Genres Publications
(Library Book)

A half-dead smartass, grumbling about having to chase down ghost pachyderms, fend off possessed dolls,  and deal with the bureaucracy of the afterlife. A 300-year-old story collector, steeped in memory and making her first foray into online dating. An old Cubano keeps watch over lonely children and ghosts, harmonizing with the music that seeps from the spirit world.

Funny and ghoulish and beautiful and loving. This is a celebration of city life, in all its grimy, glorious multicultural and heartfelt messiness… especially New York, as much as it is a collection of ghostly adventures and interconnected characters.The stories with Gordo were my favorites, especially the title story, which deserves five stars of its own. I’ve said this before about reading Older, I love his imaginative approach to magic, the way he grounds it a sense of place and in the thriving blend of history and culture that makes up the city, using that to build a magic and dreamscape that’s something new and surprising in every story. His magical New York is a character in its own right.

But, even more importantly, the characters have heart, and respect for each other, even when swearing and arguing. Sometimes terrified, sometimes angry and jumping to conclusions, sometimes getting in each other’s way and their own, yes. But, ultimately, each person has a core of trying to be human, to do the right, respectful, heartfelt thing. Even in the midst of reading about scary ghost dolls and death and monsters, there’s a feeling of love, and of hope. Reading these stories when I did, I started to feel better, when I really needed that. Especially the stories with Gordo.

Every time I read something by Daniel José Older, I love it as much for the prose and turns of phrase as I do for the story. I kept reading passages out loud or copying them into texts, to send my friends. Even just a quick description, a chance line of banter that made me laugh. But, especially, the turns of phrase that speak to something deeper.

“They simmer in that sweet, in-between rhythm section rattling along all the while.”

Just lovely to read aloud. (It was hard to pick just one to use as an example.)

So yes, this is a good, fast, important read. It works as an introduction to his stories, or a complement to reading Shadowshaper or Half-Resurrection Blues. Which you should also read. Because pretty much everything I’ve said about Salsa Nocturna is true for those books too.

 

 

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