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.

Literacy in Cuba

OK, the whole discussion of whether a literacy program is a good trade-off for totalitarianism (and no, it isn’t) is inane when it comes to Cuba. Because all of the stats on Cuban literacy rates come exclusively from the regime itself. I met quite a few functionally illiterate adults in Cuba. I also visited a school in the countryside where the school was housed in a former pigsty and kids were unfamiliar with the concept of a pen.

I also hung out with students at the University of Havana. They could read. But there was nothing to read. Their ignorance was at the level of peasants in tsarist Russia.

What’s the point of literacy if there are no books and all you are allowed to read or hear is propaganda?

Another one of my sentimental favorites is the myth about the low infant mortality rates in Cuba. That one really makes me mad. “Infant mortality in Cuba is lower than in the US!” As somebody intimately familiar with infant mortality in the US, I see red when I hear this stuff. In Cuba, both of my children would be aborted at five months of pregnancy because nobody would bother with a high-risk pregnancy. But infant mortality would be avoided, yippee.

Dumb fucks.

If You Are Interested in Venezuela

Folks, I’m reading Karina Sainz Borgo’s novel It Would Be Night in Caracas (this is the title of the English translation), and it’s really great. Please read it if you have any interest in Venezuela and want to know what’s going on.

The novel is non-ideological in the sense that the horrors it describes have been present in Latin America throughout the twentieth century. Maduro’s dictatorship is identical to, say, the military dictatorship in El Salvador in the 1980s. Ideology is a pretext for the horror, the brutality, the extreme violence.

However, there are also things that are peculiarly socialist. The suffering of the intelligentsia that sees its apartments invaded and their books shat upon by the lumpen class is exactly like the experience of the educated classes after the Bolshevik revolution.

I’m still reading, so this isn’t a full review. It’s just me brimming with enthusiasm for this novel.