Book Notes: Santiago Roncagliolo’s Red April

First off, the novel is available in English, and it’s so good! Very, very good!

What’s really embarrassing is that I keep banging on about how there are no good mysteries in Spanish, and then I stumble across two within one month. This one is by a young (he’s my age, which is infancy for a writer) Peruvian writer, but unlike Terra Alta, the first good mystery in Spanish I ever read, it’s so much more than a mystery.

Red April is set in year 2000 in Ayacucho, PerĂº. Ayacucho is the birthplace of the Shining Path, the terrorist Maoist organization that devastated Peru throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Aside from having a really great, twisty mystery, the novel explains better than any history book why these Latin American guerrillas and the military forces that fought them were so outlandishly violent.

What’s great about Hispanic writers is that they are completely unaware of political correctness. The feeling of freedom I experience when I read this literature is very addictive. There’s no tiptoeing around race, gender, or anything of the kind.

The novel talks about harsh issues and there’s a lot of violence in it. But it’s also uproariously funny in a very Peruvian way. If I had to name one thing about it that I didn’t like, it’s that the novel is very cinematographic. It feels a little too much sometimes when one scene after another is very camera-ready. But whatever, who cares. There’s so much about the quechua, and the “heart of darkness” in their culture, and the Catholicism of the Andes, the “democracy” in Peru, everything.

Great, great novel. And why not read something by a great Peruvian writer while we are in captivity anyway?

The violence is very hard-core, though. Welcome to Latin America.