The heroine of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s second novel enters the story as a supernaturally proportioned woman with the skills and instincts of an infant, a shell of a once-powerful goddess. She appears out of nowhere, heralded by parrots and pursued by fearsome monks from a foreign land, colliding into the arms of an utterly unloved woman called Crabby as though summoned by her mortal protector’s despair.
The daughter of Lithuanian Jews, Crabby arrived in Chile at two years old with her parents, Sarah and Abraham, who is a seven-foot-tall professional callus remover who insisted on naming his daughter Isaac to reference the Biblical coincidence of his wife’s name paired with his. Rejecting both her given name and the Torah in its entirety, Crabby was raised instead on Paul Féval’s The Hunchback and received her nickname for the crustacean posture she adopted in her favorite character’s likeness — and in acceptance of “the idea of being an aggressive crab separated from others by a hard shell.” Uncouth, ugly, and prone to fights with her peers, Crabby was neglected by her devoutly religious father until his death, whereupon she was summarily kicked out of the house by her mother and immediately appointed stepfather at the age of thirteen, wandering the stretch of Chile north to Iquique, where she finds Albina in the middle of a fierce storm.
Discovering that Albina possesses the power to hypnotize scores of men at a time with the exhibition of her towering, pale body in dance, the two women set up an illegal business of nightly performances that send the entire male population of the town and its seaborne visitors into a mass stupor whetted by home-brewed mistela and roasted kabobs. They are forced to flee, however, when a deformed and lusty city inspector called Drumfoot threatens to have them arrested unless his physical desire for the dancing goddess is routinely satisfied. The humiliation and frustration he suffers from Crabby and Albina’s escape sets Drumfoot off in murderous pursuit of the women who slipped away on a bicycle built for two after leaving him locked up and naked with the mentality and, by moonlight, body of a dog.
Drumfoot is not the only man made werewolf under Albina’s spell. Housed by a forlorn former hat maker named Amado Dellarosa, Albina and Crabby resume their reliable livelihood in Camina, a former mining town in a valley further north that has been forgotten by the Lady, rendering its inhabitants apathetically immortal. Every man in the village comes to watch her dance, and under the full moon each of them transforms into a dog, tearing after Albina on her wanton romps into the wilderness in somnambulant pursuit of sexual pleasure. Alerted by her friends to the insatiable duality of her character, Albina embarks on a quest for her cure, faithfully accompanied by Crabby and Amado (and the love budding between them) across desert and mountains and the fantastical apparitions they contain, with a brave armadillo named Quirquincho as their only guide.
A brief novel of baffling splendor, Albina and the Dog-Men is a journey into the heart of the desert and the human soul.
Nat Bernstein is the former Manager of Digital Content & Media, JBC Network Coordinator, and Contributing Editor at the Jewish Book Council and a graduate of Hampshire College.