Sunday, April 01, 2007

Juan de Recacoechea’s American Visa

I read Juan de Recacoechea’s American Visa, and I've included it on the sidebar. According to the afterword, only a handful of Bolivian novels have been translated into English. That’s a shame, because this is a really good novel (the title is not actually not translated—the original was simply “American Visa”). Originally published in 1994, it is a conscious rejection of magical realism, choosing instead to immerse itself in the nitty gritty of daily life in La Paz. It is in the first person, following Mario Alvarez and his efforts to get a visa so that he can join his son in the United States. Doing so, however, is extremely difficult because the U.S. government is suspicious and so won’t give visas to anyone it believes won’t return to Bolivia. Mario has a set of false documents to make it appear he has a better job and more money, and from there the story takes off.

As he tries to obtain the visa, he moves around the city restlessly, drinking a lot of pisco and beer, hanging out with prostitutes, transvestites, miners and even a wealthy woman with high political connections, and generally showing an ease with virtually any type of person. As he says, “As in nearly all Latin American capitals, in La Paz ‘progress’ is enshrined in framed cement blocks that give a false sense of prosperity. It’s when you start snooping around the place that you smell the misery and underdevelopment (p. 36). His “snooping” is extensive, and brings life to just about every type you can think of.

I found it to be a page turner—Mario’s adventures are both bizarre and fascinating, and the plot keeps twisting. I see that it was also made into a film, so I’ll have to find that at some point.


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