Red April Paperback – Aug 10 2010
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"'In this superb novel of politics, terror, and human frailty, Felix Chacaltana, an assistant prosecutor, confronts a series of murders that may have roots in Peru's resurgent Maoist guerrilla group, the Shining Path. A masterful creation, Chacaltana ranks alongside Schweik, Mitty, and other legendary innocents.' Boston Globe 'Roncagliolo's stunning debut, about the brutality of Peruvian society under the Fujimori regime, merits comparison to the work of J.M. Coetzee... Roncagliolo crafts an unsparing view of life controlled by a repressive and paranoid government.' Publishers Weekly (starred review) 'A tour de force... Red April is at once a serial-killer thriller in the tradition of The Silence of the Lambs and a more searching examination of a country's darker side.' Times Literary Supplement" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
SANTIAGO RONCAGLIOLO was born in Lima, Peri, in 1975. He is the author of two other novels; Red April, which will appear in eleven languages, marks his debut in English. He currently lives in Barcelona.
EDITH GROSSMAN is the award-winning translator of such masterworks as Cervantes’s Don Quixote and García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Adhering strictly to standard operating procedures, Saldivar interviews the locals, but gets nothing of use from them. He asks Police Captain Pacheco for a copy of their report, but is ignored as none have been filed. Instead the police and the military command ignore his questions and requests. In spite of the evidence he has collected, he rejects the obvious answer that the deceased was a victim of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorists because officially the group no longer exists. However, even Saldivar who buries his head in the sand notices that anyone who chats with him dies. He still writes an inane report with no supporting evidence to validate his claim, but defends the position of the army brass that terrorism no longer exists in Peru. His reward for this is to observe an election in a remote village where violence is the norm as the "nonexistent" Sendero openly operates death squads.
This is a terrific, radically unique Peruvian police procedural that looks deeply at the people ravaged by the brutality of the Fujimori government and the Shining Light; neither side lets human rights stand in the way of achieving their agenda. The whodunit is intriguing as the villagers understand facts do not matter to an authoritarian big brother government obsessed with mistrust and the insurgents are perhaps more paranoid and deadlier. The career bureaucrat is phobic, obsessive, and impulsive with a need to impress, which have nothing to do with the facts. RED APRIL is a profound thriller that is exciting yet insightful with applications to Afghanistan as to how people endure when two adversarial groups pull villagers in opposite directions.
In the Anglo-American tradition of the crime thriller, there may be corruption but in the end the system works. Criminals are caught and justice is done. There are different rules in the Latin crime novel. The system works but there are a different hidden set of rules that only the insiders know. It is a cynical, old world view of justice. The thrill of the Latin crime novel is experiencing another way to see the world. For those interested in this different perspective, check out the works of Paco Ignacio Taibo(Mexico), Leonard Sciascia(Italy), Rubem Fonseca (Brazil) and Michael Dibdin (Anglo Irish-Italy).
It is estimated that nearly 70,000 Peruvians were killed or dissapeared from 1980 to 2000. Countless additional thousands were injured or severely traumatized as a result of the guerilla war. Along with all the suffering, one of the consequences of the conflict is that Peru has become one of Latin America's literary hot spots. There is nothing like a cruel civil war to inspire literary introspection. Following in the foot steps of Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru is producing talented, world class writers like Alonso Cueto, Jaime Bayly and the gifted Peruvian-American Daniel Alarcon. Santiago Roncagliolo is a major talent and along with his generation of fellow writers, they are putting Peru on the world literary map.
For obscure reasons, Felix Chacaltana Saldivar, Associate District Proscutor, requests a transfer from Lima back to Ayacucho, from where he fled at an early age after his mother was killed in a fire. The plot unfolds during Lent in this small Peruvian city, so rich in historical significance. For those readers who are interested, I'll share a few pieces of information that I was driven to look up in order better to relate everything that happens. Ayacucho has been a seat of genocide and conquest from its historical beginnings when early tribal groups were
decimated by the Incas who were decimated by Spanish conquistadors who were finally vanquished in a famous battle at Ayacucho that established Peruvian independence. "Aya" is translated as "dead" or "soul," so the very name of the city contains the idea of death. While Lima became the seat of white- and mestizo-dominated, Spanish-speaking power, rural Ayachucho with its Quenchua-speakers constituted the oppressed and marginalized. It was in Ayacucho that the Shining Path developed, and in such rural areas, the bloodiest violence took place both by and against such terrorists.
Chacaltana becomes involved with serial killings for which the explanation is incoherence. As they proceed, the killings become more barbaric and seem to combine elements of paganism, religious ritual, and violence. Part of solving the mystery involves understanding why people are killed like this. I do not wish to reveal too much for those that might read this book because even though it is really a literary novel, it does take the form of a mystery. Let it suffice to say, in the words of the police captain, that death floats in the air in this city and men lose their heads. The inferences in this novel are very relevant to the current world of terroism and anti-terrorism. It is a novel that will make you think.
This novel, set in Ayacucho, where the Shining Path was born, has been harshly criticized by some in Peru. There are details of Peruvian military, police, judiciary and fire arms that are, apparently, in error and which indicate a degree of sloppiness "unacceptable" in a thriller. (You and I won't notice.) However, their real criticism is that the book trivializes the internal conflict that consumed 70,000 lives in Peru, turning it into merely the backdrop for a series of bizarre murders that consume the principal character, Chacaltana. The same could be said for crime novels that use WWII, Nazi terror or other horrific backdrops, but those who are so close in time and place to the violence of those years have a right to be sensitive.
Other objections--such as the one that the novel portrays indigenous Peruvians as crude and violent bumpkins who speak Quechua gibberish--I think may be misplaced. As I read it, the novel intends(in part)to portray how the outsider elites--all people from Lima and other parts of the coast--view the indigenous people of the highlands. Although Chacaltana, as a low-ranking mestizo official, has to endure the ridicule of army, police and political players, he is not immune to plenty of prejudices of his own because, in essence, he is a Limeno, a man from the capital.
Chacaltana is pretty hard to take in his incredible naivete, and some readers have thrown up their hands and thrown out the book. But he is the consummate bureaucrat; Americans have had much less contact with these types than Latin Americans have. He is a pretty strange guy. If you have seen the film "Ojos que no ven" (What the Eyes don't See) by Peruvian director Francisco Lombardi, I could visualize him as the nerdy clerk in the Ministry of Justice--but with a law degree.
As far as the translation is concerned, the stilted language that one reviewer complained of is due to the intentionally stilted translations of Chacaltana's reports, written in bureaucratic legalese. (See very similar military communiques in Vargas Llosa's "Pantaleon y las visitadoras," hysterically funny in Spanish and much less so in English.) I did find the translation of the mysterious illiterate ramblings (never explained until the end) over the top. These sections could have been done a bit more subtly and still retained the flavor of the original, I think.
As his own investigation into the murders escalates, he exposes additional cover-ups performed by the church and the local priest. When a suspected terrorist is allowed to escape from jail--only to be brutally butchered--and the priest Chacaltana confesses to is tortured and slaughtered in his own church during Holy Week, the prosecutor becomes the pursued, or is he? In his own mind, swamped in confusion, he talks to his recently departed mother and the young girl, Edith, he is trying to court.
As the story builds to a crescendo, we are treated to the written notes of a third party as a clue to who is behind the rumors, the troubles and the murders themselves. Will Chacaltana discover the truth before he becomes the next victim? In an inspiring tale of one man trying to make a difference in this private hell on earth, Roncagliolo presents us with a flawed protagonist that we can relate to and gives us hope for mankind in this political thriller. But do not be fooled by the shy, unassuming attitude of the prosecutor; he is out to get his man no matter the cost, even if it is his own demise.
A brilliant debut novel from one of Latin America's newest and compelling authors.
Red April (Vintage International)