Political and religious ideas can be difficult subjects for fiction, especially when they’re combined: argument, after all, proceeds down a clearly marked highway while narrative takes the scenic route. But politics and religion meet in war zones on a daily basis, and artists have never shied away from representing the physical, if not the metaphysical, side of struggle. Certainly Mexico and Central America, sites of rich religious tradition and churning political conflict, have attracted Anglo realist writers—the best-known are probably Graham Greene and Robert Stone—equally drawn to the pleasures of the quest novel, with its atmosphere of suspense and exoticism, and the very different pleasures of the novel of ideas.
With her ambitious second novel, A Land Without Sin, Paula Huston jumps into this territory equipped with a wide-angle lens. She is determined to convey the riches of Mayan history, the dense beauties of Mexico’s Chiapan jungle, the contemporary challenges of liberation struggles and liberation theology as seen from the privileged outsider’s perspective. And always lurking behind the story of this world of Chiapas, so new to the novel’s sharp-tongued protagonist, Eva Kovic, is a story of personal and cultural history that has intermittently driven both her and her brother to the clutches of despair.