Sunday, December 27, 2009

Evelio Rosero's The Armies

I read Evelio Rosero's The Armies, a novel about a rural Colombian town in the middle of the FARC, paramilitaries, and the army. The back cover says "Gentle in voice but ferocious in impact" and that is a perfect summation. The novel centers on Ismael, an old man in a rural Colombian town that becomes an epicenter of violence. The Colombian army is viewed as unpredictable and corrupt, but at least preferable to the truly insane violence of the guerrillas or paras, which are indistinguishable anyway. At any rate, the government refuses to help.

Ismael is a voyeur, and as the novel begins he stares at his beautiful neighbor. As the novel progresses he watches everyone else but slowly gets sucked in himself. He lives in fear to the point that he laughs at it:

It is fear, this fear, this country, which I prefer to ignore in its entirety, playing the idiot with myself, to stay alive, or with an apparent desire to stay alive, because it is very possible, really, that I am dead. I tell myself, good and dead in hell, and I laugh again (p. 157).

This is not light reading, yet Ismaels' first person narrative keeps a brisk pace. He experiences horror, but keeps moving and thinking. Maybe that is the only way he maintains sanity as the town is engulfed in murder, rape, kidnapping, and sadism.

It reminded me of Sandra Benitez's The Weight of All Things, which depicts a family in El Salvador getting stuck between guerrillas and the military during the civil war. There is the same helplessness, and the same sense of wanting just to be left alone because no one cares about the ideology. They just want all of the armies to leave them alone.


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