There is so much to talk about in Volpi’s novel that now I won’t quit discussing it for a while.
One fascinating aspect is that this entire 500-page novel was written to erase the effects of a single video that was aired on Mexican TV back in 2005. The police staged a rescue of kidnapping victims and an arrest of kidnappers. “Staged” means it was all completely fake. It never happened. The police wanted to set up these completely innocent bystanders for kidnapping and the best way to do that in the absence of any evidence was to create a powerful image for the public to believe. Both the victims and the accused were raped and tortured by the police to ensure they performed well in the video.
Thirteen years later, all of the falsely accused innocent bystanders but one are still in jail, and the public opinion is still mostly not on their side. Nothing that has been said or proven since then has been stronger than that one poorly made video.
People hate to have to change their minds, especially about something they have seen. Whoever tells the story first, especially if it’s accompanied with a strong image, owns the situation.
The novel narrates the true story of a Mexican man and his French girlfriend who were falsely accused of running a kidnapping gang, tortured and incarcerated. Kidnapping people to get ransom is one of the most wide-spread types of crime in Mexico. By the most modest accounts, 18 people are kidnapped in Mexico every single day. When the victims are women or children, they are not only tortured but also gang-raped daily every day they spend in captivity.
Authorities in Mexico are desperate to show the public that they are tough on crime. But investigating crime is hard, so they routinely grab some poor innocent bastards, torture and rape them for days until they confess to be kidnappers (or narcos, or robbers, etc) and put them in jail. This happens all the time, and nobody gives a crap. The only reason why the case narrated by Volpi in his documentary novel got any attention is that this time the Mexican police made the mistake of arresting a French citizen on such false charges.
The French government – including president Sarkozy – fought hard for the liberty of their falsely accused and imprisoned in Mexico compatriot. A decade later, they actually succeeded in rescuing her from a Mexican jail. Nobody, however, fought for the Mexicans who were falsely accused together with the French woman and treated much much worse.
Volpi wants the world to care not only for the French victim of Mexican police misconduct but also for the Mexican ones. And what I really like about the novel is that he isn’t laying the responsibility for the shameful state of Mexico’s criminal justice system at anyone else’s door. I’m honestly very fed up with hearing how everything is the fault of the Spanish empire, the US, or the little green aliens from Alpha Centauri.
Volpi makes no secret of wanting to be a Zola-like figure in a modern rendition of the Dreyfus case. It’s kind of ironic since the most sinister figure in his narrative is a Mossad-trained Mexican Jew. But hey, if you’re bothered by anti-Semitism, abstain from Latin American literature. And Almudena Grandes, as we all learned recently.
The novel is completely documentary and based on truly extensive research. I deeply respect Volpi (Mossad-trained evil Jews notwithstanding) for doing this work. I believe that if more intellectuals in underdeveloped, corrupt countries like his and mine stopped dickering around and started fighting for human rights like Volpi does, it would make a real difference.
For decades, the way that Latin American writers wrote about the tragic realities of their countries – the dictatorships, the violence, the crime, the corruption – was to cutesify them in a way that would make these horrors palatable and entertaining for foreign readers. This way of writing was called “magical realism,” and it soon spread to other third-world regions. Writers from desperately poor countries would compete as to who’d depict their tragic reality in the most cutesy, funky, and quirky way.
Finally, though, it seems like Latin American authors are ready to move on and stop exoticising the suffering that exists in their countries. Jorge Volpi’s recent La novela criminal is an example of a very different way of writing about Latin America. Volpi narrates the story of outrageous police misconduct, corruption, criminality and torture in today’s Mexico without the coy “well, this is just how we are” of the magic-realists. Volpi believes that it is a disgrace that Mexico should have such a ridiculously corrupt criminal justice system, and he doesn’t conceal his rage against the indignities of life in Mexico.
[To be continued…]
As someone said the other day, “Trump will win in 2020 because this is too much fun.” When I see things like the first sentence in this post or likethis truly ridiculous, pathetic meme, I realize it’s true.
If Trump is against “the invisible hand of the market”, then progressives will immediately become in favor.
Amongst all the stupidity people have spewed forth about Philip Roth, here is a great review by the always great Kenan Malik.
Sexual assault is not supposed to be funny. But it becomes so once college bureaucracies get involved. Check it out, folks, it has an interesting twist.
Only a woman gets this. Even the best, most intelligent, wonderful men simply can’t get it. But at least there are women who are not too cowed by incomprehending men to say it.
In my culture, we all know that “life only truly begins when you turn 40.” Which is why I was very confused by this article claiming that academics in my age group are particularly miserable. I mean, academics are always particularly miserable, it’s a requirement to join. But this kind of a twist on our gloominess is new to me.
An important article on workplace transformations. When I was saying these things only a few years ago, people debated ferociously.
When a teacher goes nuts. Sadly, it happens all too often.
How can anybody say that bringing back insane asylums is a bad idea? I’ve lived in places where severely disturbed people wandered the streets en masse, creating an intolerable situation for everybody and experiencing conditions of extreme indignity. Throwing them all out in the streets and destroying the institution of asylums was a huge victory for neoliberalism. It’s urgent that insane asylums should come back.