“Last Christmas I gave the John Harding novel “One Big Damn Puzzler” to my wife as a Santa gift. She read it and told me I had to read it, for its laughs and oddities, and its anti-American (or, really, anti-modern world) slant, and because so many of the scenes had stuck with her. This last week I read the 200K-word book, and my wife was spot on: this novel has so many odd adventures, characters, and themes inside, that I shall remember it, and its “idea” of life vs. art vs. existential breadth, for a long time.
On a small Pacific island, Managua, one of the village elders — and its only literate member — is translating “Hamlet” into the local pidgin English, a language “gift” from the American army that had used the north half of the island as an aerial bomb proving ground. Enter William Hardt, American foreign-claims attorney, who descends on the island to get them compensation for the harm that America has done to the island, and the so-many-legless people (from late-exploding ordnance).
What Hardt discovers is a society that is entirely unreliant on the outside world, and which has its own view of life, death, sex, society, and love. While many fine scenes exist for excerpt, one of the shining lights in the novel is the Shakespeare-to-vernacular that Harding has accomplished for Hamlet’s soliloquy.”
Mark Beyer wrote this review Wednesday, December 19, 2012.