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South American politics meet Northeast academia in this uneven but affecting novel about untangling a family past. Pedro Zabalaga is—like the author himself—a Bolivia-born professor of Latin American Studies at an upstate New York university. Trapped in an affair with a flirtatious graduate student named Ashley, he flees back home to Río Fugitivo, the fictitious Bolivian city that plays a recurring role in Paz Soldán's work. There, Pedro involves himself in something much more complicated than his affair—an attempt to unravel the romantic, intellectual and political betrayal that led to the death of his father, a famous revolutionary and novelist. With the help of his Uncle David, who was present at his father's death, Pedro reexamines his father's famous novel, Berkeley, a postmodern tour-de-force littered with secret messages. He also interviews Jaime Villa, his father's childhood friend, now a drug lord awaiting extradition. Paz gets mixed results from his weaving of two separate storylines. The affair between Pedro and Ashley, despite its heat, is a standard tale of star-crossed lovers. Less familiar, and more engaging, is the throbbing world of Río Fugitivo, flooded with American culture but still haunted by years of oppression. Paz Soldán is perhaps Bolivia's most notable contemporary author, a winner of his country's National Book Award and the Juan Rulfo Prize, given to the best short story written in Spanish. This is the first of his six novels to be translated into English, and it provides an accessible introduction to his work. Carter's translation is smooth, though her tactic of only partly translating dialogue (a faithful effort to reproduce Paz Soldán's own bilingual leaps) can be distracting.
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A Bolivian professor probes the depths of his rebel father's past in this taut, gritty tale of two dramatically different Americas. When Pedro Zabalaga, a Latin American studies scholar, seeks a reprieve from his work--and troubled love life--he returns home to Bolivia and a flood of memories: his friends, family, and the politically charged climate of his fictional native city, Rio Fugitivo. He moves in with his uncle David, a quirky inventor and crossword-puzzle writer, and one of two survivors of a government bombing that killed Pedro's father some 30 years before. In conversations with David and in the pages of his father's cult novel, Berkeley, Pedro discovers disturbing truths about the charismatic man who loved his country to the death. Percolating with American pop-culture references, Bolivian National Book Award winner Paz Soldan's first novel published in English is a bristling alternative to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Blending history, existentialism, and romantic and political passion, it offers an edgy, urban vision that sizzles from the start. Allison Block
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