Light Piercing Water (Guest Boy)
by Djelloul Marbrook
Mira Publishing House
review by Steve Glines
There is always something fun about a book written in English by an author whose native language is not English. Non-native speakers are often very inventive with our language, using interesting metaphors where we might use a cliché. There are other times when the reader skids to a halt with the need to decipher a sentence or paragraph that contains English words embedded in an alien grammar. Fortunately this does not happen very often in this first of a trilogy that vaguely mirrors The Odyssey or so the author promises.
The hero of this thin volume is Bo Cavalieri, a seaman, former U.S. Navy frogman and an artist extraordinaire. Bo, which stands for boson, is half Arab and half German with an Italian step father. OK so we know he's conflicted right there. The book opens with a small convoluted plot that leads to a young Arab boys suicide. Bo takes it upon himself to deliver the remains to the boys home town in Algeria. The task being done Bo signs up with a tramp steamer that's been outfitted by a rich British eccentric (aren't they all) and his mistress to do underwater archaeology.
For the middle two quarters of the book Bo and his British companions wander the coasts of North Africa, Greece, the Red Sea and somehow end up in Oman. Bo meets the Sultan of Oman who likes Bo and calls him Sinbad. A few pages later they discover an important ship wreck. A few pages after that Bo quits for almost no reason and becomes captain of a small Omani ship bound for the African coast. On the return trip Bo discovers that they are carrying slaves. He kills the owner, renames the ship and divides the spoils between the rest of the crew after dropping his female slaves off on a random beach somewhere.
Bo joins up with another tramp steamer headed to England. While this steamer is laid up for repairs he goes to Scotland to visit his fathers former girlfriend. Bo thinks she might be his real mother because his real mother is such a witch (See I told you he was conflicted). She isn't but he (and we) learn all about how Bo came to be and why he is such a good artist: his mother was a good artist. We learn his father was killed in a jealous rage but it's immaterial to the story. After having a one night stand with his fathers ex-girlfriend, Bo is back aboard ship and ends up in New York City where we learn he owns an apartment. The apartment had been rented out to some drug dealers so Bo throws them out and proceeds to get completely drunk, destructively drunk. His free time is spent telling us about his childhood and how he loves to swim the East River. It's after one of these swims that Bo is attacked by a bout of amnesia and ends up in Belleview psychiatric hospital.
That's it. There are two more volumes in this trilogy so it's safe to say that Bo remembers who he is unless the rest is all retrospective but we are given no hint, no foreshadowing of what will happen to him. We have only the publishers promise that the trilogy echoes The Odyssey. A good read, for an immortal.