Excerpt from Tropic of Night by Michael Gruber, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Tropic of Night

by Michael Gruber

Tropic of Night
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2003, 432 pages
    Feb 2004, 480 pages

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Dolores Tuoey is the name I go by now. Dolores was a real person, a good Catholic girl, an American Sister of Mercy who came to Mali to do good and did good, but contracted cerebral malaria and died of it. They put her next to me in the hospital in Bamako and when they packed me up to ship me back to the States, someone grabbed her papers by mistake and stuck them in with my stuff. So when I needed to be someone else fast I became Dolores, still a good Catholic girl, no longer a nun, of course, but that explains the big blanks in the résumé, and the little problems with dress and makeup. I can talk the talk all right, having been for a long time a good Catholic girl myself. A little problem there, explaining Luz to Polly. What a good liar I am! That's why I left the order, of course, succumbed to a dark deceiver out there, and have been trying to get the child back since. It all works out, if you don't bang the box too hard and if I can phony up the paperwork. A sister of mercy indeed, Dolores.

My real name is Jane Doe. No, not a joke.

My family has little imagination and substantial pride. Like the perhaps apocryphal Mr. Hogg, the Texas oil baron who named his daughters Ura and Ima, my father simply would not see that Jane Doe is the traditional name for an unidentified female corpse. The Does have a small store of female names that they recycle through the generations: Mary, Elizabeth, Jane, Clare. My paternal grandmother was Elizabeth Jane, and had four sons, and so I as the firstborn daughter had to be Jane Clare, as my sister had to be Mary Elizabeth. My late sister.

I chase Jake out as night falls in the disturbing light-switch way of the tropics, disturbing to me, at least, raised as I was with the long summer twilights of the high latitudes. We amuse ourselves, Luz and I, at our table, by the light of our paper moon. She draws with Magic Markers on a big newsprint pad, complicated scribbles, densely laid on, filling the whole page. I ask her what she's drawing, but she doesn't answer. I've set up an old Underwood I got down at the Goodwill. On it, I'm carefully forging a birth certificate on a Malian form. That was in Dolores's stuff, too. A neat packet of birth certificates, and one of death certificates. She was a nurse-midwife, riding the bush circuit. I've kept them in my hidey-hole these past years, for no particular reason, and now here I am tapping out a saving fiction. Thank you again, Dolores.

I'm giving her August the tenth for her birthday, in memory of my sister. Perhaps she will grow up to be a little Leo, or maybe the stars are not fooled. In any case, she will officially be five in a couple of months. I will give her a birthday party then, and invite Polly Ribera and her kids, and any friends Luz has made at the day-care center I plan to place her in. I have reached the line where you are supposed to put in the father's name. I hesitate for a moment, thinking over the possibilities. I suppose my husband would be the logical choice. He is the right color, surely, and he would be amused by the gesture, assuming that what he has become is still capable of humor. On second thought . . . on second thought, I type in Moussa Diara, which is as close to John Smith as they have in Mali, and in the space marked for dwelling place of father, I type mort. A few more details and it is done. I fold and refold the certificate many times, to counterfeit authenticity, and then I take Dolores's envelope and shake it over the table. As I expect, a fine drift of red dust appears on the white wooden surface. I pick the dust up on my finger and rub it into the birth certificate, and now it looks like every other document in the Republic of Mali. This gives me a certain satisfaction, although the thing won't bear serious scrutiny. Still, it should be adequate to get Luz into a clinic for shots, and then into day care and school. In the signature du médecin ou de l'accoucheuse space I use a ballpoint pen to sign Uluné Pa. Uluné is certainly a doctor of sorts, and I know he would be amused. I replace the forms in their envelope and put the envelope back in the box under the floor. There is other stuff in the box, manuscripts, my journals, and various implements. Cultural artifacts. A little stiffening of the belly musculature as my eye falls on them. I take out the aluminum covered journal with the lock on it. It is also coated with the dust of Mali, and other stuff, too, and I lay it on the floor before I close the box and stamp down the tile and push the waste can over the tile. We Americans are disposed to act and there is stuff in that box that I could use against him, maybe, but my instinct says not to, or maybe I have just become a coward, or always was. Then again, perhaps I'm crazy, perhaps I'm in no danger whatsoever, he's forgotten all about me, perhaps it is just the guilt. Still, better safe than sorry, as my dad used to say.

The foregoing is excerpted from Tropic of Night by Michael Gruber. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.

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