Thursday, 31 January 2013

Kim's Review : Red April / Abril Rojo

The author of Abril Rojo - Santiago Roncagliolo is from Peru, but his father being a political analyst was forced to leave the country with his family because of tensions with the then government. It is heartening to note though, that his father Rafael Roncagliolo is now back in Peru, serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2011.

Santiago himself resides in Barcelona, Spain since 2000.

We were introduced to Santiago Roncagliolo because he was one of the invited speakers at JLF 2013. The session with him and Ariel Dorfman, was outstanding. And it amazed us to learn that they had met each other just an hour before coming on stage. The chemistry they shared was electric and the following session was filled with laughter, insights, sharp wit and a ton of recommendations of Latin American writers worth reading.

If I had to describe Red April in one word - that word would be - Brilliant!

Red April is set in the season of Lent of 2000 when Alberto Fujimori Fujimori was serving the tail end of his 3rd consecutive term as President of Peru and fresh elections are about to be held. Santiago gives the reader a clear insight into the workings and political/military tensions simmering in Peru in that year before Valentin Paniagua came to power.

Edith Grossman is the Award Winning translator of Cervantes' "Don Quixote" & Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera" among others, so I was quite shocked when the opening paragraphs of "Red April" seemed stilted and saddened that this would be a tough read. However, after eading a few more lines, I realised that the language was that of Assistant District Prosecutor - Felix Chacaltana Saldivar writing his official report and it all made perfect sense. Thus, the brilliance of Santiago Roncagliolo and his translator Edith Grossman was evident right from these first 2 pages.

While our initial introduction to the lead character Chacaltana, is stilted in its language, it perfectly fits his personality. And its easy to identify him among junior bureaucrats in other countries too.While as a reader I was initially frustrated with Chalcatana's behaviour and reactions, I slowly found myself empathising with him except in one scene towards the end. His personality grows as the novel progresses, from being an ineffective report writer he becomes more hands on and learns to work the system to his own benefit.

The beauty of Red April was that it made me curious to know more about the politics of Latin America, the religious customs around Lent that they follow (which are so different from what are practiced around the rest of the world), the Senderista and the history of the freedom struggle in this region. The book also touched upon Incan customs and depicts how these customs have been included into Christian rituals.

While I read the book itself in 3 hours flat. Somewhere mid way through the book, I stopped to google more about the above topics, just so I could fit the story into a framework. What I did, isn't necesarry to understand or enjoy the book, but it did help me put the entire series of events into context.

It is no suprise then, that Red April won Santiago Roncagliolo the prestiogious Alfaguara Prize.

The author says at the end that "The methods for Senderista attacks described in this book, as well as the counterterrorism strategy of investigation, torture and making people disappear are real. Much of the characters’ dialogue is, in effect, quoted from documents from Shining Path or from the statements of terrorists, officials and members of Peruvian armed forces who took part in the conflict. The dates for Holy Week in 2000 and the description of the celebration are also true. Nevertheless, all of the characters as well as the majority of situations and places mentioned here, are fiction, including the factual details that have been removed from context of place, time and meaning. This novel narrates, as do all, a story that could have happened, but the author does not attest to it having been thus."

So is this novel a work of historical fiction or just fiction set at a point in history?

Whatever it may be, the book is definitely worth reading just for the joy of reading. The peek into life in Latin America, the gripping suspense and the plot are all just additional bonuses.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

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