Sunday, December 12, 2010

Santiago Roncagliolo's Red April

Santiago Roncagliolo's Red April: A Novel is a creepy yet engrossing mystery set in Peru in March-April 2000.  It focuses on the fight against Sendero Luminoso in Ayacucho.

Félix Chacaltana Saldívar is a prosecutor put in charge of investigating a particularly grisly murder he thinks should be attributed to Sendero, and he starts to unravel a series of killings for which he ultimately starts to feel responsible, because all the people he talks to end up dead.  Chacaltana himself is really odd, a combination of Norman Bates and Inspector Clouseau, fastidious but often clueless and with skeletons in his own closet.

The narrative takes place just before and during Holy Week, obviously a time of death and resurrection (and there are interesting points made about the intersection of Catholicism and indigenous beliefs).  Within that, Sendero and the military's fight against it engulfed everyone in death, even while the presence of violence is denied:

"You think too much Chacaltana.  Get one thing into your head: in this country there is no terrorism, by orders from the top.  Is that clear?

Everyone is focused on trying to make sure that as few people as possible know that any violence is occurring at all, or that Sendero still exists.  That gets more difficult--though not impossible--as the number of dead increases.  From the perspective of plot, the book keeps you guessing until the end.


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