The latest addition to my website is Rodrigo Hasbún‘s Los afectos (Affections), a first-class novel, based on the story of a real German family that emigrated to Bolivia. The family is the Ertl family: father, a former cameraman of Leni Riefenstahl, mother, a chain smoker who will die of cancer, and three daughters, one of whom will join Che Guevara’s guerilla group, the second who will return to Germany and the the third who becomes a chain smoker like her mother and remains solitary. The story starts with an expedition, led by Hans, the father, to find a lost Inca city. He takes his two oldest daughters, Monika and Heidi. The expedition is not a success, though Heidi meets and marries a fellow expedition member and Hans runs off with the entomologist. Aurelia, the mother, and Trixi the youngest daughter, thirteen years old, stay behind and smoke. While we follow the fate of the others as well, the focus is on Monika, who joins Guevara’s guerilla group and becomes the most wanted woman in Bolivia. The book, however, is about their relationships, complicated, affectionate to a certain degree, as the title implies, but always fraught. For a relatively short book, the novel packs a real punch and is superbly told by Hasbún.
The latest addition to my website is Edmundo Paz Soldán‘s Los vivos y los muertos [The Living and the Dead]. It is based on events in the 1990s in the town of Dryden, New York, when nine people died in the space of three months, seven of whom were murdered. Paz Soldán lived in nearby Ithaca and followed the events, particularly as seven of the victims were adolescents. His novel tells a story of similar but different events in the fictitious town of Madison, with two twin brothers killed (in separate incidents) in car crashes, four people murdered by two sexually obsessed men, the two murderers committing suicide and one other car crash death, the result of drunk driving. Paz Soldán states in the afterword that he wanted to write a meditation on loss but it is also about a community that seems fairly normal at first sight but has its problems underneath. Before the deaths, we see a man dishonourably discharged from the US Air Force for sexual assault, who brutalises his wife and sons and lusts after his fifteen-year old neighbour, unhappy marriages and adolescents struggling to cope, with sexual and drug problems not uncommon. The sense of loss is not surprising but it tends to exacerbate the already fragile community spirit. It is a grim novel but an interesting novel about a community which, as they say, seems to be living in a Stephen King novel.
The latest addition to my website is Edmundo Paz Soldán‘s El delirio de Turing (Turing’s Delirium), only the second Bolivian novel on my site. This one is set during the 2000 Cochabamba protests against increases in water prices following privatisation, though disguised as the increase in electricity prices following privatisation, in the fictitious town of Río Fugitivo. Much of the activity revolves around code-breaking, as we follow events inside the Black Chamber, the Bolivian equivalent of the US NSA and the UK GCHQ, as well as the employees of that body, the daughter of a current and a former employee of it, who is an investigative journalist, a group of hackers who hack into the Black Chamber and the computers of other government bodies and the global company that owns the electricity company, and a judge on a mission. Paz Soldán comes up with a complicated plot involving all of these, with revenge, deaths, dirty pasts and, inevitably, revelations about these characters and their deeds. While the plot was certainly very clever and made for a good read, I felt he tended to get a bit distracted from the overall political issues – corruption, abuse of power and the nefarious effects of globalisation – and the novel did not compare well with a couple of other novels I have read this year about political protests – Tryno Maldonado‘s Teoría de las catástrofes [Catastrophe Theory] and Zakhar Prilepin‘s Санькя (Sankya). However, as I said in my review, maybe I am expecting too much.