The Angel of Galilea

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the poorest of barrios on the outskirts of Bogota, an angel has alighted. Or so the gullible, superstitious locals believe. The angel has already developed quite a following when Mona, a tabloid journalist who once aspired to higher things, arrives to investigate.

This sets the stage for Laura Restrepo’s tantalizing novel of poverty, transcendence, and mystical love. Mona soon discovers that Galilea is split into two camps, the believers and the scoffers, the latter led by a truculent priest who denounces the following as Satanic.

The angel himself turns out to be a strange creature. Living in a cave on a hillside, he speaks only to himself, and no one understands what he says. He uses his mother as a psychic channel and she scribbles down in journals his poetic, apocalyptic thoughts, the tortured outpourings of a being exiled from heaven.

When Mona finally beholds him she discovers that he is a strikingly handsome youth of seventeen or eighteen. She is enthralled by his physical beauty and his magnetism; he does indeed seem to be from a different plane of reality. She instantly falls passionately in love with him.

Is he really an angel? As Mona pieces together the story of the angel’s life—a sorry tale of abuse, neglect, drug addiction, incarceration, epilepsy, and possibly schizophrenia as well— Restrepo keeps the reader guessing. Ultimately, the question is unanswerable. This mysterious tale works on another level altogether, creating a vision of love and divine radiance reaching out and touching even the most wretched of the Colombian poor.