CUNUMAN by Omar Castaneda (Pineapple Press: $14.95; 180 pp.).
Omar Castaneda's first novel is set in present-day Guatemala, where right-wing repression encroaches on the timeless pattern of Indian village life. The book's central characters are Carolina and Juan, a couple united by love and misfortune. Sickness is claiming their children's lives; inexplicable accidents threaten their maize crop. Juan has changes in mind--digging an irrigation ditch, suggesting that they see a doctor. Carolina, too, has outgrown the advice of Ishkik, the village wise woman. She wants new answers, and it is through her consciousness that the story unfolds.
Meantime, change rumbles underfoot like a volcano. People fear that Juan is mal de ojo , but the real menace is local leader Don Carlos Varado, who warns against communism while quietly turning the villagers into his sharecroppers.
Castaneda, who teaches at Rollins College in Florida, has succeeded in writing his own novel. He creates characters who can stand on their own, he deftly sketches in a milieu, and, more remarkably, he actually knows something about farm work. There may be a few loose threads at the edges, but the heart of "Cunuman" is an original, compelling tapestry.