‘Never Look Back’: A Descent into Hell from a Latinx Teen Perspective

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The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which the divine poet and musician, son of Apollo and the muse Calypso, descends into hell in search of the nymph and his wife who died from a snake bite while trying to escape from Arsisteus, has inspired many works in the history of literature.

Elements are found everywhere, from the wonderful story of Julio Cortázar Manuscript found in a Pocket to novels by Robert Graves, or the poetry of Lope de Vega, which reinforces the much-utilized, but beautiful trope of love beyond death, also inspiring films like Beyond Dreams, and more. 

Now, writer Lilliam Rivera joins this long tradition with Never Look Back, a novel based on the myth within the context of Puerto Rico amid Hurricane Maria and how one Afro-Latino couple in the Bronx deals with it.

The story begins when Eury, a Boricua teenager pursued by an evil spirit, moves to New York after the catastrophe experienced on the island and meets Pheus, a boy who, like the mythical Orpheus, carries music in his veins. In love, both will fight against the traumas and fears of Eury and the shadow of the spirit, Ato, who constantly flies over the teenager. 

For the author, Never Look Back is not strictly a horror novel, but a tragic romance similar to Orpheus descending into the Avern in search of the nymph. However, this well-measured dose of fear, one of the most influential emotions in a human being, is palpable on each page. 

“There is a generational trauma in everything, there are hard elements in it (Eury), but I balance it with romance,” Rivera explained to Latinx Space, assuring that one of the things he likes most about horror literature is being able to control that fear. “I can’t control other people’s actions, but I can control the book I’m reading, and the same thing when I write.” 

Rivera’s family suffered like all Puerto Ricans on the island from the terrible scourge of Hurricane Maria, which Puerto Rico is still trying to recover from. The anguish and anger over what happened and how to deal with that despair, the writer says, were the driving forces behind Never Look Back.

“After the hurricane hit, I traveled back and forth to Puerto Rico and heard the stories. It was really horrible. So, I wanted to find a way to write about it and I used the structure of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to write about the injustices that occurred during that time, how it affects a person’s mental health and just talk about the communities and how we didn’t seek professional mental help,” said Lilliam Rivera.

For the Boricua, the writing of this novel that transfers the Greek myth to the young generation of Latinx is both an exorcism and a way to bring the past to the present of the community in the United States, as well as populating the Bronx with magical realism through the eyes of two Afro-Latinos.

“I discovered this story when I was about 8 or 9 years old and saw the movie Black Orpheus. It’s a 1959 version of the myth that takes place during the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, and that’s where I fell in love with that story, and it’s been in my head since I saw that movie,” Rivera concluded.

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