OF DEATH AND BEAUTY
By Barbara Grenfell Fairhead
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When the beautiful Magdalena Chavez and her troubled, passionate son move into the small town of Las Madres, New Mexico, it doesn’t take long for the discerning among the townspeople to discover that they are other. Magdalena is a teller of stories that delight many, but also challenge the assumptions of one and all. Soon the reader is seduced into an enchanted world in which the boundary between reality and fantasy is always on the point of collapsing. The main characters must maintain a difficult balance between opposing polarities—sacred and profane, forbidden desire and ruthless power—a balance that seems to come instinctively to the simple but knowing inhabitants of Las Madres.
Fairhead is utterly at home in this environment, evoking it with a mixture of precision and lyrical intensity. Whether she is describing the tumult of a bullfight, the stillness of a work of art or the vast, cinematic splendour of the New Mexico landscape, her voice is always pitch perfect. As the title suggests, it is a world of great beauty, but that same title also warns us that we cannot speak of beauty without also speaking of death.
The Duende, that dark wind that blows through the world and touches the back of the neck whenever death is possible, is never far away.
Barbara Grenfell Fairhead was born in the UK in 1939 and has lived in South Africa since 1948. She is an artist, sculptor, writer, poet and lyricist for the band, Red Earth & Rust. She has published two books of poetry: And Now You Have Leapt Up To Swallow the Sun: 1997 and Word and Bead: The Presentation of a Journey: 2001, and a short story: Raven’s Moon: 2001.
Over a period of twenty years she visited New Mexico regularly to spend time in her casita close to Black Mesa. She lives in Cape Town with her partner, singer-songwriter, poet and editor, Jacques Coetzee. Of Death and Beauty is her first novel.
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