By Night the Mountain Burns – Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel

By Night the Mountain Burns is the second book that came out of Equatorial Guinea and made its voice heard to the world. I think it is a great opportunity to be able to read books from a country ruled by a ruthless dictator. Fortunately, there are authors, translators and publishers who take risks!


Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel was born on the island of Annobón in Equatorial Guinea in 1966. By Night the Mountain Burns is based on the author’s memories on this island. Our narrator is an innocent child and tells the events with the oral storytelling technique. So he repeats himself in places. Yet the author’s unique, raw language adds a lot to the book.

By Night the Mountain Burns - Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel

This book is about the poor inhabitants of Annobón island and their suffering from hunger, superstition and natural disasters. Meanwhile, of course, we learn a lot about the country and its neighbours. It is quite a different experience to read the events through the eyes of a child who is very intelligent and questions everything.

It was not easy to read what the island residents did to women because of superstitions. Still, I could not leave the book as I wanted to learn what would happen on the next pages. I don’t know if it would be so impressive if we read the events when illness came and when there wasn’t enough fish from the eyes of an adult. Some scenes were so obscene that I don’t think I’ll be able to forget them any time soon.

I wouldn’t have expected that a story on an island in Equatorial Guinea would affect me so much. As I read the literature of different countries, I better understand how small the world is and how similar creatures human beings are.

By Night the Mountain Burns - Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel

By Night the Mountain Burns

By Night The Mountain Burns recounts the narrator’s childhood on a remote island off the West African coast. Living with his mysterious grandfather, several mothers and no fathers. We learn of a dark chapter in the island’s history: a bush fire destroys the crops. So then hundreds perish in a cholera outbreak. Superstition dominates: now the islanders must sacrifice their possessions to the enraged ocean god. What of their lives will they manage to save?

Whitmanesque in its lyrical evocation of the island, Ávila Laurel’s writing builds quietly, through the oral rhythms of traditional storytelling, into so gripping drama worthy of an Achebe or a García Márquez. 

Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel

Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel is an Equatoguinean author and activist. His parents were from the remote Annobón Island, off the West African coast. For many years Ávila Laurel was one of the best known authors from Equatorial Guinea. And so who opted not to live in exile.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Reading Challenge 2020 – Spanish Language

Read Around the World

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