Book Notes: Karina Sainz Borgo’s It Would Be Night in Caracas

I woke up in the middle of the night because I couldn’t wait until morning to keep reading this novel. It’s that good.

Folks, this novel is the literary event of the year. There’s finally a female Latin American author who wrote a good novel. There hasn’t been one in a century. (And please don’t say Valenzuela and Eltit. Nobody who isn’t paid to do so reads Eltit.)

This is big. Sainz Borgo is a serious big writer who actually created a memorable, deep and utterly non-pathetic female character. I thought I’d never see the day.

And get this. The novel is a Bildungsroman. And I still loved it! It’s a miracle. This writer knows how to do a Bildungsroman in a way that isn’t stale.

Sainz Borgo could have chosen the easy route and written a weepy screed about Venezuela. There’s a huge audience for primitive political rants. But she’s a real writer, so she created a work of art. It has a fantastic story, a really interesting protagonist, but it’s not for the simple-minded. Which is why some simple-minded have attacked the novel. (See, for instance, the ridiculous NPR review that berates Sainz Borgo for not being into US-style identity politics).

The devastation of Venezuela that It Would Be Night in Caracas portrays is almost beyond words. If you aren’t shaken by this novel, check your pulse because you might already be dead. But the most important thing for me is that the novel isn’t about the destruction of Venezuela in general. It’s very specifically about what a civilizational collapse does to the intelligentsia, to people who can’t imagine life without books, paintings, and conversations about the meaning of life. These are usually the people who work their tails off to bring about said civilizational collapse, after which they realize they are the ones to suffer the most from it.

Sainz Borgo is only 38 years old, which is early infancy for a writer. I hope she’s a health nut because we need her writing for many decades. It’s wonderful that Latin America finally has a worthwhile female novelist (well, Spain actually has her because Venezuela isn’t in need of talented people. The lumpen has triumphed there).

I really think she can turn into a female Castellanos Moya with time and practice. I honestly don’t have a higher form of praise for a writer than that.

P.S. Just so we are clear. Spain has fantastic female novelists of the genius caliber, and has had them non-stop for 150 years. Latin America, however, has been stuck between the vulgarity of Allende and the cheap didacticism of Poniatowska. Great female poets, yes. Prose, not so much.