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A Land Without Sin: A Novel Hardcover – August 1, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eva Kovic is a war photographer whose brother Stefan, a priest, has disappeared amid revolutionary unrest in southern Mexico in 1993. She goes to find him but hides her mission by taking a job as a photographer with a Dutch archeologist who specializes in the Maya. Both Eva and the Mayanist are not what they seem, and their stories unroll in Central American jungles, crossing time and continents as Eva's family history and the archeologist's wife become key parts of the narrative tapestry. Eva is a hard case, slow to reveal anything but toughness; her absent brother is present in the narrative through his letters that Eva reads, so the emotional foothold offered readers is small at first. But the story deepens slowly, and its themes of war and family are profound and insistent, with tenacious hope eventually gaining a foothold. Huston (Daughters of Song) reels the reader in slowly, with subtle characterization and small clues planted early. A wonderful book for church book clubs; Huston takes God, the burden of history, and religion's big questions seriously. (Aug.) Graphic the ValleyPeter Brown HoffmeisterTyrus (F+W Media, dist.), $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4405-6203-7A couple illegally inhabits the Yosemite valley in camps and debri shelters, bearing and raising a child who grows to be a new type of Native American in Hoffmeister's debut novel. At the age of 19, Tenaya has never left Yosemite. He was born in a car and brought straight to the valley, educated with stories from books and his father's mythical-sounding memory. He learns how to survive in the wilderness with nothing but himself. But when he takes a job clearing slash off the Tioga Road and meets Lucy, a secret relationship blossoms which leads to pregnancy and a controversial public engagement. The couple's dreams turn sour as both families manipulate the young bride and groom during marriage ceremonies to embarrass the other side, escalating towards violence and ending in tragedy. Tenaya is left with the responsibility of protecting his beloved valley, where construction and contracts are moving in to create a theme park and destroy his home. With refreshingly fundamental first person narration and unusual character development, stripped in knowledge and language of anything but the necessary, each page of this novel is illuminates its reader's imagination with both tenacity and innocence. (June)

From Booklist

In the jungles of southern Mexico, a revolution is brewing. As tensions escalate between wealthy landowners and poverty-stricken peasants, local priest Stefan Kovic disappears. The church’s failure to locate Stefan prompts his sister, Eva, a seasoned photojournalist, to take up the cause. To safely travel in the area, Eva takes a job with Jan, a local Mayan expert doing research nearby and, it turns out, on a secret quest of his own. Guided by a series of letters Stefan left behind, Eva travels deeper into the jungle, her growing uncertainty overshadowed by her fear for Stefan’s safety and driven by her need to understand the revelations contained within the mysterious letters. In a journey reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Huston’s characters travel a variety of difficult roads, away from all that is known and toward something that brings each far more than any of them bargained for. The novel, which takes readers deep into a land close at hand but worlds away, is a thought-provoking yet familiar journey honoring family, friendship, and the many unexpected paths of self-discovery. --Carol Gladstein

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Slant (August 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1620326582
  • ISBN-13: 978-1620326589
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,433,706 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

(Author Photograph by Dennis Eamon Young). Paula Huston grew up in Long Beach, married at nineteen, and relocated to San Luis Obispo county on the Central Coast in her early twenties. About the time her two children were born, she began writing short stories; in her early thirties, she became a single mom, working two part-time jobs while continuing to write and publish short fiction. After remarrying and becoming a stepmother of two, she returned to school for a B.A. in English, then went on for a Masters in English and American Literature.

She began teaching at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo after completing the Master's degree. While still matriculating, she took a class in ethics that spurred a return to Christianity and a shift to writing spiritual non-fiction. Along the way, she became a Camaldolese Benedictine oblate, a lay associate of a contemplative Catholic hermitage on the Big Sur coast. For many years, she and her husband Mike have lived on four acres in the country where, in the spirit of St. Benedict, they produce much of the food they eat, including fruits, vegetables, olive oil, eggs, honey, and wine. They have four young grandchildren.

Huston is the author of two novels and five books of spiritual nonfiction, plus co-editor and contributing essayist for another. Her essays and short stories have been honored by BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES and included in the annual BEST SPIRITUAL WRITING anthology. She is a National Endowment of the Arts Fellow in Creative Writing, a member of the Chrysostom Society, and a founder and faculty member for a low-residency California State University Consortium Master of Fine Arts program. She currently mentors MFA students in creative nonfiction for Seattle Pacific University.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a fabulous novel! As Eva drives more and more deeply into the jungle in her quest to find her brother, I felt some of the same terror as I did reading Heart of Darkness. And Eva's musing along the way about theology and psychology fascinated me, as it has other readers. But what no one has mentioned yet is how great the characters are. There's the gutsy, impulsive, impudent Eva, who seems so real that what she learned from her journey, I just naturally absorbed with her. There's also the attractive, taciturn, tempting scientist, Jan, torn by mixed feelings about his sick wife. And then there's Jet, burned out hippie cowboy, who struck me as a hilarious and brilliant parody of a Cormic McCarthy dude. Even as storm clouds lower, there's fun in this book, and remarkable characters.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Eva Kovic is a thirty-something war-hardened photo-journalist, deliberately estranged from her miserable Croatian immigrant parents, her own past, and the Catholic church. However, when her brother, an idealistic priest whom she has not seen in years, disappears in the jungles of southern Mexico on the eve of the Zapatista revolution, she decides to use her experience with rough travel and good cameras as cover, to make her way into the wilds, find her brother and bring him home.

Thus begins this amazing novel.

Author Paula Huston brings formidable gifts to bear in the writing of this, her first novel in nearly twenty years: a lifelong interest in anthropological archaeology, decades of discipline in the craft of writing, her own travels in Latin America, and years of study in theology.

Huston weaves her tale at several levels at once: the book is simultaneously a riveting political thriller, a fascinating historical novel (not only about the uprising in Chiapas in the 1990s but dark days in the Balkans in the 1940s), a moving coming-of-age story, and a brilliant exploration of ancient Mayan mysteries in tension with provocative contemporary theology.

And she does all this superbly well.

This book has been compared to Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, an accolade which it richly deserves. In the graceful way it braids issues of public importance with private concerns, it also merits comparison with Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior and Ann Patchett's Run (which from me is high praise indeed).

Both those who have admired Huston's six non-fiction books and those who have never heard of her will immensely enjoy A Land Without Sin.

This is a book to read and re-read, to give to friends, to ponder and remember, for a long time to come.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I only met Paula Huston a few months ago but her take on life, spirituality and writing are transforming. I was so humbled to be asked to read her first novel in twenty years. As a writer, Huston succeeds in weaving layer upon layer of meaning into the story. As a person of faith, she upholds redemption as the soul's true quest. And as a person, she exudes the same concern for her characters as she does for those fortunate enough to cross her path. A Land without Sin is a success in part because of how these elements merge to form an exquisite fabric of story that is by turns arresting and intriguing. Huston's style is reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver, partly due to the subject matter, partly due to Huston's gentle style. I feel lucky to have entered the world she has both created and exposed. I am wiser now, sadder too. Ultimately this story brims with redemption and oozes with grace.
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Format: Hardcover
It's 1993 in Central America. Eva is a top war photographer who has taken an unusual assignment, aiding a taciturn Dutch Mayanist in his research in the great pyramids of Tikal. That's because her brother, an idealistic priest, has disappeared and no one seems interested in finding him. Undaunted and feeling qualified to explore rough areas because of her war-time experience, Eva uses this job as cover to search for her brother.

She is unwillingly sucked into her employer's family life as she works with his likable son and meets his wife. This just adds to the list of mysteries she can't solve as their relationships seem too complex for a normal family. Meanwhile, as Eva reads an old stack of her brother's letters, we learn of her own mysterious background, much of which she is only coming to terms with as her journey continues.

A lot of this book is infused with questions and conversation about faith. As Eva encounters revolutionaries and ordinary folk, the information she has picked up from her brother's own spiritual growth suddenly begins to be applicable to a lot of different situations in very interesting ways. All this is done without hitting the reader over the head with a religious hammer, which I appreciated.

I myself really enjoyed this book and finished it several months ago but I have not reviewed it until now because I wasn't sure how to describe it. The fascinating blend of treasure hunt and South American revolution made me read the story quickly, but I never felt worried about Eva's safety. In fact the book left me feeling almost detached from any emotional reaction to the storyline.

Perhaps the best comparison I can come up is to Silence by Shūsaku Endō.
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