Pedro Zabalaga, a young professor of Latin American Studies at a New York university, is the son of Bolivian hero Pedro Reissig, one of six men massacred by the army in the 1970s, as their socialist cell was planning the overthrow of President Montenegro. When Reissig died, young Pedro was still a small child, and Reissig's legacy to him is a book he has written entitled Berkeley, a cult novel filled with symbolism. By discovering the messages hidden in the book, Pedro believes he will discover his father. Now in Rio Fugitivo on sabbatical to do research, he is staying with his Uncle David Reissig, the only survivor of the massacre.
"Berkeley can be considered as a political critique of the media," David Reissig tells Pedro, "And of history as well, starting with the telegraph." Political use of the media, the dominant theme, is also a concern of Pedro, who writes political commentary for American magazines. In addition, the drug kingpin of Bolivia uses the media to promote the idea that he is a Robin Hood-like hero, several of the revolutionaries whom Pedro Zabalaga befriends are involved in the media, and a popular contemporary rock band, named "Berkeley," conveys revolutionary messages through its videos. In a clever double irony, the author of this novel himself uses the clues of cryptograms to convey the history of the revolution to readers of this book.
Despite its well developed themes, this is not just a "message novel." Pedro Zabalaga's return to Bolivia is an escape from a disastrous affair with a student whom he still loves. As the novel alternates between Bolivia and New York, tracing the relationship, the reader sees innumerable parallels between the lives of Pedro and his father in their unwillingness to commit themselves to the future. The mystery surrounding Pedro Reissig controls the action and direction of the novel-Who is he? Who betrayed the group to the army? What does his novel Berkeley mean?
This first-ever translation of a Paz Soldan novel provides insightful descriptions of people, their actions, and their politics. The author's sensitivity to the contrasts between life in Bolivia and life in upstate New York is obvious, and his ability to create not one, but two less than admirable "heroes," both of whom keep the reader engaged, is striking. Despite the constant changes in time and setting, the novel is tightly constructed, using a mystery and love story as the framework for important political observations. Mary Whipple