Cover image for The messenger : a novel
The messenger : a novel
Montero, Mayra, 1952-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Como un mensajero tuyo. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperFlamingo, [1999]

Physical Description:
218 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Set in Cuba, "The Messenger" tells the story of a pair of doomed lovers-world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso and his Chinese-Cuban mullatta mistress. In June 1920 a bomb exploded at the Teatro Nacional in Havana at the very moment that Enrico Caruso was singing RadamEs in the opera "AIda." In a panic, he fled the theater and disappeared into the streets of Havana. What happened to him is the story imagined by Mayra Montero. As Caruso tries to escape the murderous agents of the Black Hand, he is drawn into a passionate love affair with Aida Cheng, a woman whose godfather is the powerful Afro-Cuban santero JosE de CalazAn. Told by Enriqueta, the daughter born of the love affair, and by Aida herself as she lies dying many years later, "The Messenger" unfolds its mysteries against the rhythms of African santerIa and Chinese folk magic and weaves a brooding, compelling tale of love and death.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In June 1920, a bomb explosion interrupted Enrico Caruso's Havana performance of Aida. The prematurely aging singer disappeared into the streets, and it's at that point that Montero (In the Palm of Darkness, 1997) picks up the story. Montero's story is an entertaining blend of intrigue, illness, and folk magic. Everyone (even Caruso) understands that the famous tenor is doomed, and everyone, especially the young, beautiful widow Aida Cheng, struggles with the implacable nature of destiny. Opera fans will enjoy the details of Caruso's lifestyle and entourage; the settings and magic spells often fascinate; and some of the minor characters, such as the retired doctor who takes his pills with cognac and blames Caruso's death on his Italian colleagues, are lively. But neither Caruso's lover, Aida, nor her daughter, Enriqueta, are by themselves interesting: both are constructed largely of reflected glory rather than palpable desire or credible grit. This weakness in the main characters could put off serious readers, but for others, the mere presence of Caruso will satisfy. --Lee Reilly

Publisher's Weekly Review

When the great tenor Enrico Caruso sang Aida in Havana in 1920, a bomb exploded during a performance. Caruso fled; nobody knows where he went. Cuban-born novelist Montero (In the Palm of Darkness) turns the paucity of facts about Caruso's disappearance into an appealing and richly mythic fiction. In her plot, Caruso escapes from the incendiary wreckage into the arms of a beautiful Chinese-Cuban mulatta, Aida Cheng. Aida's godfather, Jos‚ de Calaz n Bangoch‚, is a powerful santero (a priest of the Afro-Caribbean religion Santeria), who speaks to Afro-Cuban gods and can know the future through a magic chain called the ‚kuele, or messenger. Jos‚ has foreseen the explosion, Aida's affair and Caruso's impending death: he wants to keep Aida far from the doomed opera singer, but Aida determines to save Caruso. Two narrators relate the impassioned adventures that follow. One is Aida Cheng herself; the other is Enriqueta, Aida's daughter by Caruso, who has grown up to confirm her mother's tale by reading newspapers and interviewing surviving witnesses. The paired narrators deliver a harmony of passion and melancholy, and create a chainlike ‚kuele connecting past to future. Montero's Caruso and Aida clearly descend from Verdi's Rhadames and Aida; more interestingly, Montero suggests that Rhadames and Aida are the Afro-Cuban gods Chango and Yemaya, whose ill-fated love forever keeps them apart, and who forever seek earthly bodies to occupy. Montero's visions of intercontinental culture-clash, star-crossed lovers and historical violence fully justify the operatic treatment she provides. In Grossman's clean translation, Montero's authorial dexterity avoids grandiose pageantry, keeping the action clear and the pace right. The result is a novel, rich in metaphor and allusion, that will leave most readers breathless as its final curtain drops. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Havana, 1920. When a bomb explodes in the theater where the Great Caruso is performing in A‹da, the Italian tenor, ever fearful that the Sicilian Black Hand is after him, flees into the street. Montero's second novel speculates what might have happened next. In an adventurous plot of escapes, kidnappings, and trysts, she creates an imaginative yet believable saga related partly by Caruso's Chinese-Cuban mistress and partly by their natural daughter. Each installment of this narrative crisscross fills in pieces of an inventive puzzle of historical fiction. To enhance the fidelity of the storyline, each chapter title is taken from the libretto of A‹da. Grossman, translator of Cuban-born Montero's earlier effort (In the Palm of Darkness, LJ 4/1/97) and notable interpreter of Garc¡a M rquez and Vargas Llosa, has executed a fine and clean product. Highly recommended.ÄLawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.