Robert Boswell
New York: HarperPerenial, 1994, from the 1989 original
ISBN # 0-06-097587-3
310 pages.

Comments by Bob Corbett
October 2005

Leon Green, an American in his mid-thirties, runs a dilapidated hotel in tiny unknown La Boca. It is the mid-1980s, the country is an unnamed Central American nation, but internal clues suggest either El Salvador, Nicaragua or Guatemala.

Leon enters into affairs with two local women, one a leftist ex-professor hiding out in remote La Boca, the other a wild and brilliant 17 year old village girl.

He has fled two wives and what he thinks is a dead-end mode of living, blaming especially the cultural practice of monogamy which he thinks is contrary to reasonable and passionate living.

A number of fascinating local characters and even a couple of interesting foreigners who drift into the hotel make up an impressive list of characters.

Arthur Robert Boswell builds an interesting, even gripping plot with two main thrusts – the lives and relationships of the locals, and, despite the remoteness and self-imposed isolation of La Boca, the people cannot escape being impacted by the revolution raging in their country.

The strongest feature of this novel was Boswell’s cast of local characters. They were ordinary people who lived at near survival level, but interesting and even exciting people. Boswell brings out the richness of their inner lives and struggles.

The foreign visitors vary in playing significant to minor roles, but each of them was well-written, generally fascinating folks.

However, I was disappointed in the main character, hotel owner Leon Green. His ramblings on about his new view of human interpersonal relations, one that utterly ignores the concept “the other” was juvenile and his pathetic history of running from commitment to serve his sole interests was aggravating.

Despite this aspect of Leon’s character I did enjoy one exchange he had with a visiting American tourist woman.

She touched a sheet of corrugated tin, part of the roof. Her had jerked away. It’s hot,” she said, then, “People live in there?”

“Poor side of town,” Leon said.

“There’s poverty in paradise?”

“This isn’t paradise for them. It’s paradise for us.”

“What is it for them?”


This exchange, measure against his own theories of human relationships, captures the essence of my own feelings about the novel as a whole – a relatively weak characterization of Leon, the major ex-pat figure, but a general careful sensibility about local people, their lives and ways to be.

I think the novel’s a decent read, mainly well constructed, but not really a great book.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett