Published in Books & Authors (Daily Dawn) on July 8, 2007
By Albert Sanchez Pinol
Available with Liberty Books
Next to Bar B.Q. Tonight, Shop No. G-1, Plot # GP-5,
Block 5, Clifton, Karachi
ISBN 1-84195-900-6233pp. Rs395
Cold Skin (or La pell freda as the Catalan original is called), is the story of a man who renounces his past life and journeys to the edge of the Antarctic Circle. He is to take over the unrivalled post of a weather official, for a year, which in his opinion is an unimportant and monotonous job.
However, even after his self-imposed exile, he is unable to find the peaceful solitude that he was in search of. The former weather official is nowhere to be found on this small, L-shaped island. And this is only the beginning of a number of other unpleasant discoveries.
He experiences the worst form of loneliness but he is not alone. The island is cohabited by an intolerable, unhelpful and selfish man, Gruner, the maritime signal technician, as well as by amphibious, green-eyed monsters (the Sitauca). The Sitauca’s single aim seems to be to get rid of these two human invaders and persistently wage a war against them.
The central character remains nameless and the story is somewhat abstract. The author tries to show how monsters can be humane while humans can sometimes become worse than monsters:
“Gruner was quite talkative, one could say almost jovial. The prospect of bombarding our assailants with the coloured flares cheered him enormously.”
The images that Piñol paints are very vivid, rather surreal and reminiscent of the horror and creepy movies we see these days. They have the same eerie effect on the reader. Piñol’s comparisons and style of writing are, beyond doubt, worth applauding. Sometimes the description seems irrelevant and forced. However, the latter half of the book makes it fall into place and is more engrossing than the first half.
Piñol (born in Barcelona in 1965), won the Ojo Critico Narrativa prize in 2002, for this first novel. He is a writer and anthropologist and has also published several short stories as well as an essay on dictatorship. This book has been translated in 15 languages and has an ever-increasing number of readers.
The book does not belong to a single genre; it may perhaps be considered a combination of horror, mystery and tragedy. — AYESHA HODA