Book review of What the Wind Brings by Matthew Hughes

What the publisher says:

In the mid 1500s shipwrecked African slaves melded with the indigenous peoples of coastal Ecuador and together they fought the Spanish colonial power to a standstill, to remain independent for centuries.  The story of the people of Esmeraldas is told through the eyes of three characters: Alonso, an escaped slave; Expectation, an a-gender shaman; and Alejandro, a priest on the run from the Inquisition.

With its slipstream elements this novel carries a flavour of South American magical realism tradition into a grand historical epic.  Both sweeping and intimate, it is a delight to read from beginning to end, and we are honoured that Matt has decided to entrust his grand work to us.

Pulp Literature

WhatTheWindBrings

My thoughts:

Hughes is not shy about calling What the Wind Brings his magnum opus. It’s a novel that’s been over twenty years in the making, the author not wanting to publish the work until he felt it was ready to meet the public. That time is here, and Hughes has produced a novel worthy of his ambitions for it.

My favourite character was Expectation, the nigua shaman. They’re an outsider because of their vocation, but even more so because of their gender and identity. None of the other characters quite know what to do with or about Expectation or even what to call them. Accordingly, some characters identify Expectation as she, some as he, and some identify them by their vocation, or, pejoratively as a witch.

Expectation doesn’t care. They know who they are and what they need to do, and they find a way to persevere despite the antagonism of Anton and the other Africans who have taken positions of power within the new community after the shipwreck.

Expectation has a spirit guide, who counsels them in their work. They heal sickness in the community and they, in turn, counsel the community’s leaders.

They’re pivotal to the melding of the Africans, the nigua, and the other tribes eventually brought into the larger Esmeraldas community. Expectation also plays an important role in Alonso’s story arc when they recover Alonso’s lost spirit guide, and in Alejandro’s arc, when they trepan the Trinitarian monk’s skull after a severe head injury endangers his life.

What the Wind Brings is, in my opinion, Expectation’s story. They’re the character that does the most to bring the community together and ensure its continued harmonious survival. While Expectation’s shamanism is the source of the novel’s speculative elements, they also display a healthy scientific curiosity, thinking about the nature of illness and contagion. These ponderings enable Expectation to adapt to other ways of thinking and healing and help them to remain relevant in the changing political structure of the Esmeraldas community.

Hughes writes with candour and compassion about the African slaves, the Ecuadorian indigenous peoples, and even the Portuguese and Spanish colonizers. His characters are, first and foremost, people with relatable fears and goals, flaws and better qualities. He does not shy away from the harm his characters do to one another, purposeful or inadvertent. There is great violence in the novel, but also great moments of compassion and love.

Highly recommended.

My rating:

Four out of five stars.