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Santiago Roncagliolo: Abril rojo (2006)

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Abril_rojo_smallI read Abril rojo ages ago, some time in the early autumn last year, I think Update: upon checking my Goodreads account, I realised it was in the summer. Just now it came back to me like a flash: I’d actually really wanted to review it when I read it, but somehow never got around to it, you know how it is. 

Well, this gem has spent enough time languishing on my “to review” list, because I think it really deserves having its praises sung (the Premio Alfaguara jury was onto something there). Abril Rojo is set in Peru in 2000, towards the end of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso)‘s terrorist activities in the country.  But in Ayacucho, during Semana Santa (the week before Easter), a number of horrific murders are being committed. The person in charge of handling the crimes is Félix Chacaltana, a prosecutor originally from Ayacucho, but who has spent a long time in Lima and come back. He has moved back into his late mother’s house and kept her room as it was when she was alive, and he constantly talks to her. Chacaltana is a true thorough bureaucrat who believes in the power of institutions, and so he sits down dutifully and writes his reports on the murders. Perhaps, he concludes, the Shining Path has something to do with them?

But Chacaltana’s report doesn’t fall on fruitful ground. His investigative advances are blocked by high-level officials and he runs into a wall of complicity with the perpetrators. But Chacaltana doesn’t give up. With a mixture of obstinacy and daredevil naivety, he digs deeper and deeper into events. Elements of indigenous magic mix with crime and having spent a lot of time in the worldly city, Chacaltana has problems wrapping his head around the Andean infusion of catholic and indigenous traditions that surrounds the events. As he descends into the depths of a world where terrorism, corruption and political ambition mix, both Chacaltana and the reader become more and more confused. Never quite knowing who is who and on whose side people stand, his quest becomes lonelier and more dangerous.

I don’t really want to say more, because I don’t want to spoil  Abril rojo for you. I really enjoyed this excellent and easy-to-read thriller with a lot of tension. If, on top of it, you’re interested in Peru, this is most definitely your book (in which case, you may also be interested in this one). And even if you don’t have a Latin American or Peruvian predilection, if you’re European or North American, prepare to be immersed in a culture that is so close to our own in some ways, yet so fascinatingly different in others. Roncagliolo manages to treat an issue that is still quite thorny in his home country without too much pathos, and he’s really, really good at creating the corresponding ambience. Get ready to be sucked in.

English title: Red April
German title: Roter April

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Author: bettinathenomad

Nomadic fan of books, food, the outdoors, and water. International Relations geek. Chlorine is my perfume.

6 thoughts on “Santiago Roncagliolo: Abril rojo (2006)

  1. Ohhh, this sounds like a good read! On to the wish list it goes!

  2. I liked this one much less than you did, Bettina, largely on account of the fact that I didn’t believe in the main character’s evolving meltdown. That sort of ruined the novel for me. I did enjoy the background stuff–the Sendero Luminoso references, the nods to the prejudices of the city people against the country folk in Peru–but I felt it was more of a cheesy thriller than anything else. I seem to be in the minority with that opinion, though, because many others seem to love this book right along with you!

    • Oh, it sucks when you don’t believe in a character, that can ruin any novel! 😉 To be honest, I did relatively little deeper thinking on it – so I was perfectly happy to be dragged down to madness land with the main character. Then again, even if it is a bit cheesy (although I honestly didn’t think so), the Sendero references and the portrayal of Peruvian society did it for me.

  3. I loved this one although I think the blue hour I reviewed by another peruvian writer Alonso Cueto dealing with similar time frame is slightly better and maybe didn’t get as mention as much as this one ,although Santiago is a really noce chap I bumped into him when this won the iffp a couple of years ago ,all the best stu

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