Never before in English, this legendary precursor to ecofiction turns the coming insect apocalypse on its head. 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 local Chiapas tribe, 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 our antihero discovers a curious thing about the mosquitoes’ buzzing, “which to human ears seemed so irritating and pointless”: it 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.
Full of violent hesitation and contradictions, His Name Was Death is also a book about the power of writing.
In 1947, Bernal published one of Mexico’s pathbreaking sci-fi novels: His Name Was Death. Set among the Lacandón indigenous people in the country’s southern rainforests, it depicts a universe ruled by hyper-intelligent mosquitoes who farm the human race as a food source…Bernal’s work can be pulpy, and reactionary, but it’s also clever in the way it encourages critical reading. He possessed a rare ability to assume a perspective and examine it at the same time—and he expected his readers to do the same.
—The Baffler, Max Pearl
The pervading sense of personal and social oblivion becomes increasingly bracing. It’s like Apocalypse Now with mosquitos, and surprisingly it works.
His Name Was Death is, without a doubt, one of the greatest novels in the history of Mexican literature.
Complex, chilling and slapstick—a doozy.
—John Williams, The New York Times
It could be said that Rafael Bernal was to Chiapas what Joseph Conrad was to the Congo. Bernal, with a wave of his hand, clears the fog away so that those who want to see our reality—the reality of Chiapas, which has changed so little in seventy years—can glimpse it in all its dark brilliance.