“Mar Nueva” tells the story of, among other things, a boy’s coming-of-age and his encounters with freedom, captivity, integrity, oppression, and life and death. Helprin’s prodigious imagination weaves a novel’s worth of themes, settings, and details into a thirty-two-page story.
The narrator recalls the seasons of his youth when his family would summer at their beach house in Mar Nueva, a seaside region of an unnamed South American country in the grip of a powerful dictator named Santos-Ott. Despite the ominous political background it was an idyllic life for a young boy, with days spent swimming in the sea and fishing. He becomes such an accomplished fisherman that he supplements his family’s income with his catch.
One summer, the family arrives at Mar Nueva to find the neighboring property built up with a wall-encircled mansion complete with sentry boxes and armed guards. An old man dressed in a swimsuit and sandals appears on the dock one day and befriends the boy, talking mostly of fishing; he is Santos-Ott.
A side story develops as the young narrator catches, almost accidentally, more than twenty huge bluefin tuna, a species of the deep sea rarely caught from shore. Despite the relative riches that these fish would provide, the boy is in awe of the fish, declaring that “they had everything about them of the open sea, and I had never intended to capture the open sea.” As the boy and his older sister, Claudia, are...
(The entire section is 402 words.)