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, Perú. 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.

4 thoughts on “Book Notes: Santiago Roncagliolo’s Red April

  1. “This one is by a young (he’s my age, which is infancy for a writer)”

    My impression is that short-fiction writers and poets tend to be very young. I’m mid-forties, and I feel like I’m ancient, being judged as a dinosaur by all these twenty-something graduate students/editors.


    1. Are they good, though? Anybody can write, of course, but in the history of literature, it’s usually writers who have had middle-aged life experiences who are any good. Especially now that life expectancy is long.


      1. I personally have little interest in coming-of-age themes or musings on the intensity of first experiences, both of which tend to be the staple of the young cohort. I understand why it is so; when you’re new to everything and feeling everything deeply, all these insights and emotions feel important and profound, but in reality they are mundane, as we all go through them on the way to maturity.

        Unfortunately, people so young often have a hard time relating to the writing of the older cohort and that’s really a problem, because the younger folks are now the gatekeepers in many magazines.

        Don’t get me started on speculative fiction. I am part of this sci-fi discussion groups and the last however many books have been a disaster because they’re all first novels by young writers, so essentially coming-of-age stories. I think the rest of the group thought I was a real asshole when I asked if we could please read someone’s fourth or fifth novel? I cannot deal with all the obnoxious teenage or young adult protagonists (they’re not as cool or edgy as their authors seem to think).

        I sound like a veritable curmudgeon, don’t I? 🙂


        1. If there’s a genre that’s truly and completely dead it’s coming of age novels. They all follow a predictable formula that’s been defined a century and a half ago. It’s always the same thing that looks extremely important to whoever is undergoing the maturation process but is quite boring to everybody else. I don’t read coming of age novels on principle anymore.


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