Last Christmas I gave the John Harding novel “One Big Damn Puzzler” to my wife as a Santa gift. She read it and told me I had to read it, for its laughs and oddities, and its anti-American (or, really, anti-modern world) slant, and because so many of the scenes had stuck with her. This last week I read the 200K-word book, and Asia was spot on: this novel has so many odd adventures, characters, and themes inside, that shall remember it, and its “idea” of life vs. art vs. existential breadth, for a long time.
july 22, 2012
On a small Pacific island, Managua, one of the village elders — and its only literate member — is translating “Hamlet” into the local pidgin English, a language “gift” from the American army that had used the north half of the island as an aerial bomb proving ground. Enter William Hardt, American foreign-claims attorney, who descends on the island to get them compensation for the harm that America has done to the island, and the so-many-legless people (from late-exploding ordnance).
What Hardt discovers is a society that is entirely unreliant on the outside world, and which has its own view of life, death, sex, society, and love. While many fine scenes exist for excerpt, one of the shining lights in the novel is the Shakespeare-to-vernacular that Harding has accomplished, and no finer example is a portion of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy:
“Is be, or is be not, is be one big damn puzzler:
Is you be bigger man for put up with
Clubs and bamboo pits of real damn bad luck,
Or, is take blowpipes for fight herd of pigs
And is by use of snakebite, end they?”
– “One Big Damn Puzzler” by John Harding
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.