On July 13th of this year, my friend Daniel Jose Older, released his first book “Salsa Nocturna“. In short, it is a collection of 13 ghost stories written in first person from the view points of several different characters. However, that description doesn’t give this book justice.
Not even close.
Before I continue, let me say this now, I read A LOT of ghost stories. Something about the afterlife fascinates me. The idea that after we die, our souls or spirits can come back and wander about the earth. Watching over those we love. Protecting them any way we can. Reminding them they are loved. Or on the flip side destroying whomever wronged us in life or haunting those that sent us to our graves. That being said, when I began reading this, I thought I knew what to expect. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While each story of course, involves ghosts and all that comes with the supernatural, they also have some of a life lesson. Something you can take from the story aside from just chills and a slight case of paranoia.
The main protagonist, Carlos is a cynical, half living, half dead detective of sorts for the “Council of The Dead”. He is sent on assignments that range from facing a paranormal pachyderm to investigating the deaths of children being killed by the spirit of a slave owner. In the first story, Carlos is assigned to carry out a task that he doesn’t necessarily want to do. While normally indifferent towards the ghosts he is sent to hunt down. something about the lone creature touched him in a way he hadn’t thought was possible. His sense of morality and justice was being tried and in the end, he had to decide who he’d listen to. The voices in his head? Or his barely beating heart?
Each story carries a moral lesson. Each one carefully dissects human behavior and how we interact with each other. How we love, how we yearn, how we heal. It’s full of humor, blunt truths, and foul language written the way only a New Yorker can deliver it. As much as I absolutely adore all of these stories, one speaks out to me the most. Magdalena.
Magdalena is told from the vantage point of a young lady named Krys. She, unlike Carlos, is dead. We meet her as she is stalking a preschool with a friend, waiting to attack the beings sucking the life (quite literally) out of the children inside. As she is waiting, her thoughts drift to her days among the living. This is where we meet, Magdalena.
Magdalena and Krys at a boarding school for troubled youths. The two ended up getting very close and eventually formed a bond that can be best described as therapeutic. Magdalena suffered abuse at the hand of her father and as expected, it affected her ability to love and be physically intimate with anyone. Magdalena connected with Krys in a way that not only allowed to be free emotionally, but physically as well. For Magdalena and many sexual abuse survivors, making love was not about conventional sex. For her, it was the bonding. The ability to let yourself go without the fear that the person you were surrendering yourself to was going to hurt you. Older captures this emotion in a way I have only seen in diaries and faces of the women, men and children that survive sexual abuse. He describes the bittersweet agony and release Magdalena feels as she “makes love” to Krys and Krys’ willingness to step out of her boundaries for her friend. The story ends with triumph. A bloody triumph, but triumph nonetheless.
This book has something for quite literally any and everyone. From its pages, discussions about sexual abuse, depression, race relations or even sex can be sparked. I honestly haven’t read another book that could take me to so many different places emotionally at one time. I would highly recommend this book to any and everyone looking for the peace that can be found in tragedy.
You can purchase it here. If you’re the impatient type like I am, you can download the kindle reader app to your smartphone (if you have one) and buy the book for five dollars there. However you get it, get it.