PRAISE FOR FEATHERED SERPENT
The U.S.-backed Contras are corrupting Nicaragua and the Guatemala military is massacring the Maya Indian population. Odel Bernini's time there becomes a journey of self-discovery, and with characters named Circe and Penelope, some adventurously sensual temptresses, and a big one-eyed guy out to kill him, Brusca is clearly injecting some Homer into the narrative. Add to that, special tea and mushrooms and Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec serpent god, and the rational scientist opens his spiritual side. The setting for this novel is fertile and fruitful and Brusca provides a sobering history of Central American countries, informed explanation of the archeology of the area, and appreciative, rich descriptions of the cities and lush countryside.
Arizona Daily Star/Christine Wald-Hopkins. Book critic (San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, Arizona Daily Star, etc.), essayist, and member of the National Book Critics Circle.
Reading In The Land of the Feathered Serpent inspired me to want to travel in Central America. The depictions of science, politics, history, and the inner workings of the CIA seem genuine and quite authoritative. The myth aspect is well handled, as the book is not a copy of The Odyssey but rather a nod to the trials of Odysseus. I enjoyed the trip with Brusca and Odel, and I think readers with an interest in that part of the world will also enjoy the book.
Portland Book Review
Expecting to gather cursory intelligence in a remote location, Dr. Odel Bernini instead finds himself eluding well-armed soldiers known for torture and killing. His journey just begun, Odel huddles under a tarp in a flatbed truck wondering if his life is about to end. In the Land of the Feathered Serpent is a capacious, multi-storied novel in a classical mode. The story will circle back and around, laying out Dr. Bernini’s journey towards a moment of dire confrontation with a treacherous and complex world. The action moves seamlessly back and forth between the states and lush backdrops of Central America. Brusca’s appreciation and knowledge of the region is evident. As Odel Bernini plunges into the unknown he is led not by equations and analyses but prompted by his dream visions of a dark, beautiful woman. By the time this odyssey is complete, Brusca will seamlessly stitch the inner and the outer into a dense and satisfying tapestry of action and self-discovery. A wonderful, engaging writer, Brusca has produced an entertaining and touching hero’s journey, an epic of the soul.
Mary Ellen Hannibal. Author of The Spine of the Continent, Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction, and numerous other award-winning books.
I read non-fiction, mostly, but once in a while a novel beckons. In the Land of the Feathered Serpent was one that called. In it, Brusca weaves bright threads of Latin American history, political angst during the Sandinista revolution, anthropology, marine biology, suspense, travel, and a series of heated romantic entanglements. Even with a fascination for the critters that live in the intertidal zone, I never thought of describing a woman “as beautiful as a sea anemone.” Yet I can’t get that out of my head. The over-arching spiritual journey of Odel, the book’s main character, keeps Feathered Serpent meaningful, poignant, and deeply human. I liked this book so much I bought copies for friends.
Jonathan White. Author of Talking on the Water and Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean.
Odel Bernini believed he had it all, but on a trip to Central America, everything changed. He will make hard choices, confront his demons and his virtues, and stumble toward a greater understanding of himself and the world around him . . . if he survives. In the Land of the Feathered Serpent is author and scientist Rick Brusca's ambitious reimagining of The Odyssey for modern times. It is an epic tale of personal growth where Odel's romanticism is at once embraced and stripped away from him, and he begins to see those around him as true, flawed people, not just the archetypes he'd painted them as. The reader takes this journey alongside Odel, often a step or two ahead of him, but always rooting for him.
Odel is an Everyman worth cheering on. The book is incredibly engrossing. Experiencing Central America as a place, a complicated mélange of politics, choices, beauty, chaos, and potential, strips away the reader's false images just as Odel's illusions are similarly confronted, those moments are powerful. Odel's struggles, the labyrinthine threads of his life that tangle and knot in peculiar ways, and the path he takes to the other side is an intriguing one, rich in color and character, vibrantly realized.
In the Land of the Feathered Serpent is quite unlike anything I've ever read. This is a multi-course meal to be savored, not devoured in one sitting.
Glenn Dallas, San Francisco (CA) & Manhattan (NY) Book Reviews
This story, like the feathered serpent itself, moves through time and space to an era remembered by many Americans as one in which the U.S. government worked to destabilize Central American regimes that were at odds with its politics. Prodded by his wife, the daughter of an American cultural attaché, Odel Bernini approaches the CIA to ask if they could fund his continued research in the region in exchange for “some silly things” he might do for them. Those "silly things" lead to funding from a private foundation to cover his travel—but with strings attached. Having sold his soul, he gradually undertakes more dangerous tasks on the CIA’s behalf. Like a frog placed into room-temperature water, it is almost too late before he realizes that the burner has been lit.
Author Brusca delivers modern man's Odyssey, both in scale and complexity. We are riveted to Odel Bernini’s journey of self-discovery as he navigates the siren calls of the CIA and smart beautiful women, while his mundane life as an academic disintegrates. Brusca has an effortless style that quickly absorbs the reader, and he delivers a mega-novel that will resonate with readers drawn to sensually charged, clandestine storylines that run through dangerous political landscapes and treacherous jungle settings.
Chanticleer Book Reviews
I highly recommend this novel. It's a wonderfully told story of Odel, a charismatic and culturally curious American biologist who, because he is driven by the need for research funds to continue his work in Central America, ends up working with the CIA during the Contra years. As he pursues his research (both biological and reconnaissance) he explores the area's archaeological history (and its enduring magic) as well as the mysteriousness of love. The book moves along, keeps you wanting to know more, and teaches a great deal about history, culture, and the basic human desire to know the other.
Sylvia D. Torti, PhD. Latin-American scholar and award-winning essayist and novelist; author of The Scorpion’s Tail and CAGES. Dean, Honors College, University of Utah.
Our hero is a brilliant marine biologist who takes on what at first appears as a small risk to secure funding for his work. A bit of spying, what could that hurt? But as he descends deeper into the 1980s Central American geopolitical soup, he also must contend with the unraveling of his marriage and what turns into ultimately a romantic quadrangle. The magical realism all occurs in Latin America, a culture more open to the other-worldly than buttoned-down American academia. A satisfying ending leaves our somewhat scarred hero with less heart-churning passion but more comfort and wisdom.
Carolyn Niethammer. Author of A Desert Feast, The Piano Player, American Indian Food and Lore, and a dozen other other award-winning books.
Feathered Serpent is a superb read—I was truly dazzled. It takes only a few pages to get caught up in Odel's odyssey of self-discovery and his developing insights into the role of trust in relationships. The vignettes on Central America’s political and social history, and culture of the period, provided a thoroughly credible framework, as did the insights into Maya history and culture. The underlying layer of magical realism is very appropriate for a novel about Latin America, as is Odel's mystical experiences and his coming to terms with the greater Latin acceptance of non-empirical knowledge. The book is beautifully written and nuanced and a real tour de force.
Thomas Bowen, PhD. Professor Emeritus in Anthropology, California State University, Fresno
Sexually-explosive political intrigue, a sense of place worthy of Dan Brown, historical explorations à la Ken Follett, and philosophical musings à la The Prophet. Feathered Serpent is a thoroughly enjoyable spy thriller about a spy who didn’t know he was a spy. In fact, Odel Bernini is a field researcher painfully unaware of what is going on around him and how deep he is into it, until it comes to bite him, hard. Set in Central America during the tumultuous 1980s, Serpent reminds us just how misguided U.S. foreign policy had become, and probably continues to be. But that’s only part of a book with twists and turns that kept me reading.
Gene Helfman, PhD. Professor Emeritus, University of Georgia; author of Beyond the Human Realm
An epic read! A mystery, a love story, and a historical drama—all wrapped together in a journey through the politics and culture of Central America in the 1980s. Odel Bernini, the naïve marine biologist who finds himself suddenly ensnared by the CIA in a situation that spirals out of control, is a character you won’t soon forget.
Jeff Hartman. Author of Atkinson Exit and The Red Coral House.
A tale of one man’s journey of discovery and self-realization, this book pays homage to Homer’s Odyssey and James Joyce’s Ulysses.
University of Arizona Alumni Magazine
A prolific science writer, Richard Brusca has now written a fiction novel imaginatively spiced with love, adventure, magic, politics, and a very personal sense of humor. I read it during a field trip in Belize, where some of the novel’s adventures take place. One can’t stop reading this book and, when you have finished, it leaves you with a desire for a sequel on the amazing life of marine biologist Dr. Odel Bernini.
Omar Vidal. Former United Nations Deputy Coordinator of the Global Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment, Director-General of World Wildlife Fund-Mexico (1995-2017), and indigenous rights defender in Mexico.
This terrific book is steeped with adventure, intrigue, nature and sensuality. A coherent passion for living, the oceans, and Latin America shines expressively through the main character. This engaging glimpse into another world will resonate in your mind. Take this book on your next trip!
Paul Delaney, PhD. Copper Mountain College, California.
A great thriller rich with cultural history, geopolitical intrigue, and mysticism.
William Shaw, PhD. Professor Emeritus and Latin America History Buff, University of Arizona.
Hang on for a thrilling ride. This novel is crafted with real places and historical events woven into an odyssey of Odel Bernini across Central America and Mexico in the 1980’s. Brusca has written a multi-layered novel, rich with colors and patterns like the beautiful iconic fabrics of the region.
Dr. Richard Winn. Scientist and Latin American Raconteur, Dulce, Guatemala.
A wonderful, many-layered story. The author takes us on trips to Central America and gets involved with the CIA and people in Nicaragua and Guatemala with whom he has some powerful mind-affecting experiences. All of it is fascinating, but through the book is the meandering story of his intimate relationships with three women, which ends up being a large part of why one wants to read on.
Dr. Elizabeth Bernays. Regents Professor Emerita, University of Arizona and author of Six Legs Walking and many other books.
A great read. Describes so well why we now have many desperate migrants from Central America trying to cross our southern border. Brusca is the author of two-dozen nonfiction books, including the largest-selling text on invertebrate zoology. And he is now a fine novelist as well!
Anne Cohen, PhD. Invertebrate Zoologist
I loved this book! It is a gripping tale of adventure of an innocent scientist sucked into the role of a spy for the CIA during tumultuous years in Central America in the 1980s. It roughly parallels the classic story of the Odyssey, but is also a coming of age story and a philosophical examination of the issues of trust in life. At the same time, it exposes the U.S. involvement in civil conflicts in Latin America, the meanings of love and friendship, Maya history, culture, and mysticism, and aspects of good and evil in the real world of politics and power. The central characters are complex and deep, the settings are well framed, and the action is dramatic. Written by a scientist who lived and worked through the places and times of the novel.
Ken Kingsley, PhD. Biologist, reader