This opening passage from Brazilian writer Tibor Moricz's 2011 novel, O Peregrino: Em busca das crianças perdidas (The Pilgrim: In Search of Lost Children) is attention-grabbing for its evocative starkness: An immense darkness. Silence. An absolute nothingness. So it was for an unknown amount of time. Throughout the first third or so of this short 196 page novel, Moricz's narrative is replete with short, sharp bursts that illustrate the harshness of the land through which his titular pilgrim wanders. This land is a vision of the 19th century US West, seen through the eyes of a non-native. The story was interesting for how weird it felt at times.
Moricz's story of the pilgrim (his name, although revealed in the narrative, I'll leave unsaid for those few who might want to read this in Portuguese) captures this sense of brutality and strangeness in the world that so often inspires others to wander forth into its unforgiving embrace. It is not a straightforward tale; there are a few asides and false steps that I encountered as I read it. But it was a tale that held my attention throughout the narrative.
What I enjoyed most about O Peregrino was Moricz's prose. He uses short, descriptive passages to lay out his version of the American West in a fashion that reminded me at times of Cormac McCarthy. This is not to say that their stories are similar, but rather that there was a kindred harshness that was reciprocated in the narrative structure. Darkness looms in this novel, from its first lines until the end. It is punctured in places with light, but those moments only serve to underscore the bleakness that I found in several scenes.
One problem that I did have was with the nomenclature. Perhaps due to being a (to me) foreign writer, Moricz's names of several people felt a bit off, unsuitable at times for the locale. Then again, that sense of "offness" did not impair the narrative, but rather gave it a sort of weird, transposed feel, as though the American West were not the myth-creating locale to which I had become accustomed, but rather had been transformed into something else, something less familiar and vaguely more threatening. This quality made O Peregrino an enjoyable, albeit slightly flawed work of the imagination that will appeal to those who want to read a story set in the American West with a few elements of steampunk sensibilities added in for good measure.