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Writes of Passage : Alex Abella Heard the Voice of His Muse--and He Took Dictation

September 05, 1991|GARRY ABRAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The store is soon surrounded by police, and a slaughter follows in which six people die, including a child killed by a ricochet from a cop's sniper rifle.

Snared in a police cordon, the holdup men surrender. Neither one has been wounded. They demand to speak to attorneys.

Everyone agrees the two Cuban killers are riding greased skids straight to the gas chamber.

Or so it seems.

Suffice it to say that Ramon concocts an outrageous defense based on his religion and that the verdict makes headlines.

As for himself, Abella says that Santeria proved to be a terrific dramatic theme that required him to become a student of the religion's practices.

"I've been to a few rites and I know a few people," he says. "I can't say that I'm a believer--I'm not. But I'm extremely interested in it. . . . There is something there."

If nothing else, Santeria is a sort of cultural glue, Abella maintains.

"It's the obverse of evangelical Christianity," he says. "It's a religion that provides a sense of cohesion and a sense of pride to people from a particular ethnic background."

In a larger sense, Abella sees the Santeria element of the novel as simply an exotic expression of age-old human concerns.

"I think it's inevitable that if you start thinking about the human condition, you start thinking about God," he says.

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