Sol is Spanish for sun as well as for sunlight, and Mario Satz is a young Argentine writer delirious with both. But the light that floods virtually every page of his novel cannot overcome the dense, obsessive way he tells his mysterious story of love, search and loss.
"Sol," in the words of Mario, the narrator, is a "monstrous letter with neither head nor tail" so Shahar, the beautiful, mysterious lover who has abandoned him. It is an exorcism, Mario's attempt to escape from the shadow her memory casts across his life. But to forget her he must reconstruct not only their three years together, but her whole life, her other lovers. Mario is an archeologist and Shahar his lost city.
"Sol" is billed, misleadingly, as a Latin American novel in the tradition of Garcia Marquez, Borges and Fuentes, writers who have fashioned universal art out of Latin American reality, history, myth and landscape. In "Sol," some of the principal characters, and a few of the settings, are South American, but they are no more central to the book than any of the other places mentioned. The heart of this book is Jerusalem.
Satz lived in Jerusalem from 1970-1974, studying Hebrew, history, archeology and anthropology, at the time he was completing "Sol." All of those interests are evident in its pages.
Mario first recalls his dream on the heights of Machu Picchu, and then his subsequent meeting in Lima, Peru, with Shahar, the embodiment of that dream. Shahar is mysterious, completing, a mixture: Persian, Spanish, Indian, Hungarian, Jewish. She enlists his aid in a compulsive search to learn the fate of her dead brother, Fernando, who believed he was the reincarnation of Solomon, and an Incan price.
Fernando, Shahar suspects, may have been murdered by the Infernal Ones, a Christian mystical sect 18 centuries old which pursues and kills students of the Kabbala, the Jewish mystical tradition which flourished during the Middle Ages. Or he simply may have overdosed on some drug. In any case, he seemed to bound effortlessly from one exotic place to another, marrying a succession of women along the way, with no thought to duty or responsibility.
Mario reminisces about their wandering search for traces of Fernando through most of the exotic and "in" spots of the western world of the late 1960s. They visit the Amazon jungle and the Indian highlands of Ecuador; steal books at the famous Bucholz bookstore in Bogota; make love in the Caribbean waters off San Andres island; live suitable seedy lives in lower Manhattan and on the Left Bank in time for the May 1968 rebellion, and finally find Fernando's grave on the Spanish island of Ibiza.
But for all the fabulous settings, there is little detail, little sense of what life is like there, only the most generalized descriptions. Satz drops the names of cities, islands, countries the way some people drop the names of personalities.
The characters are as exotic as the settings: Shahar's previous lovers, including a Chinese archeologist, a dope-smuggling gangster, a strong but silent sabra; Ananke, the blond lesbian who was in Detroit for the riots in 1967 and who preaches revolution in France in 1968; Fosforus the Arab with his flying carpet; Francisco, the Italo-Argentine butcher's vegetarian son; Pedro, the guerrillero dead in the Peruvian jungle where butterflies fascinated him at least as much as the revolution; and the Ancient of Days, the refugee wiseman from Europe's ghettos. With few exceptions they are no more than exotic. They serve the same function as the place names.
The book reads like a compendium of the de rigueur experiences of the '60s -- sex, drugs, travel, shamanism, eastern mysticism, Sanskrit classes -- all of it under the burning, dazzling sun splintering on the sands of Caribbean islands, or the deserts of Peru and Israel. Resolution finally comes at night, in Jerusalem, as Mario sits in a garden with Lebanah, the sister of Shahar's sabra lover, and they watch the moon. "It's a night sun," she tells him, "a sun one can look directly at." And the shadow of Shahar finally dissolves in the light of Jerusalem's moon, the Spanish word for which is the title of the second book ("Luna") in the trilogy Satz is writing.