His Name Was Death
Fiction by Rafael Bernal
Translated from the Spanish by Kit Schluter
With a contribution by Yuri Herrera
A bitter drunk forsakes civilization and takes to the Mexican jungle, trapping animals, selling their pelts to buy liquor for colossal benders, and slowly rotting away in his fetid hut. His neighbors, a clan of the Lacandon tribe of Chiapas, however, see something more in him than he does himself (dubbing him Wise Owl): when he falls deathly ill, a shaman named Black Ant saves his life—and, almost by chance, in driving out his fever, she exorcises the demon of alcoholism as well. Slowly recovering, weak in his hammock, our antihero discovers a curious thing about the mosquitoes’ buzzing, “which to human ears seemed so irritating and pointless.” Perhaps, in fact, constituted a language he might learn—and with the help of a flute and a homemade dictionary—even speak. Slowly, he masters Mosquil, with astonishing consequences… Will he harness the mosquitoes’ global might? And will his new powers enable him to take over the world that’s rejected him? A book far ahead of its time, His Name Was Death looks down the double-barreled shotgun of ecological disaster and colonial exploitation—and cackles a graveyard laugh.