Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo

red aprilRed April by Santiago Roncagliolo
Translated by Edith Grossman
Pantheon, 2009
Originally published as Abril rojo, 2006

I’m a bit ambivalent about reviewing this book because I nearly gave it up after the first 200 pages (there’s a big shift in tone then), but ultimately I decided to finish it to see what the book was trying to do as a whole. I think Roncagliolo intended the book to be so brutal for a reason, but it made for an uneasy read.

I chose to read this book because it’s hard to find books about or from Peru translated into English, because it’s won a couple big literary awards, and because it was billed as a sort of crime novel. Conspiracy thriller actually seems a bit more accurate because the murder near the beginning of the novel seems like a small part of the story until the final section of the book.

But this is most definitely not crime novel. The main character is a prosecutor who willingly left Lima for a provincial town of Ayacucho, and he deals with a stifling bureaucracy to investigate a murder in an area where Shining Path is supposedly inactive. This book is about the crimes perpetrated by the terrorists and the government trying to quash them, and along the way there are also a series of murders in the region.

The novel is horrifying in terms of the bureaucratic obstacles to Chacaltana’s investigation into the murders, it’s horrifying in terms of the remnants of the 20 year conflict between Shining Path and the Peruvian government, and it’s brutal in terms of the series of murders that Chacaltana investigates. The action is a bit strange and unbelievable, but the aura of violence feels real. I think my real ambivalence about the book comes from the fact that I didn’t expect there to be any hope at the end, and my assumption was correct. I’m glad I read it, but I’m ready for something less serious and brutally violent next.

Other reviews appear in Novel Insights and Reading Matters.

22 thoughts on “Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo

  1. Rebecca – That’s exactly what I’d heard about the book elsewhere, and to be honest, it’s why I’ve not yet read it. I’m sure it has some things to offer, but I think I’ll wait until I’m ready for it if that makes any sense.

    • I’m trying to get to lots of different countries in my reading so I pushed through to the end since I only had a few pages to go, which is not a ringing endorsement, I know. Every once in awhile I have to read something non-Scandinavian too!

  2. Thanks for the review Rebecca. I think I’ll try out The Blue Hour too. I also recently purchased a couple of books set in India. Can’t wait to read them!

    • Hope you enjoy them, Keishon! I still have to get to Asia for the Global Reading Challenge this year, but I’m whittling away the rest of the continents. I’m thankful for statewide interlibrary loan to try out some new authors.

  3. Your review and all of the feedback encourages me to try this book, although I will be forewarned about the brutality and hopelessness.

    Have you read Who Killed Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa. I have it but haven’t read it yet. Set in Peru, written by a Peruvian author. I know nothing about the author except that he has written lots of books.

    • Somehow I haven’t read any Vargas Llosa despite majoring in Spanish ages ago, and I’m not exactly sure why. I’ve seen a movie or two based on his books, but that doesn’t count. Happy reading, Tracy!

  4. I have to read some books from Latin America for the global reading challenge, but this is to tough for me. Am into calmer, less violent reads. So, I’ll have to look further.

    • I’ve definitely only scratched the surface of crime novels from Latin America, and the ones I’ve read have been pretty brutal or noir. I haven’t tried Claudia Pineiro yet though, and I’m not sure what the tone of her books is like (waiting to read the reviews after I’ve read some of her stuff).

  5. Claudia Pineiro’s books are not brutal. They are more subtle, at least two out of three are developing stories about people’s family lives and then some actions taken by characters.
    There’s not really on-page violence. Her pace is slower than a thriller’s, and the stories unpeel like an onion.

    • Sounds intriguing: it’s definitely a change of pace from lots of thrillers I read. I’m bumping her up my list as soon as I get to my next batch of interlibrary loans.

  6. Also, Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza, who writes about Inspector Espinosa writes an interesting story. Much of the book is Espinosa’s thinking. These are good books, in my opinion.

    • I’ve only read the first in the series, and I very much enjoyed it. I keep on finding more literary novels with a sort of crime twist from South America, and not all of them are my kind of read. Ricardo Piglia comes to mind: I’ve tried and abandoned a couple of his books in the last few months. One was too brutal and the other was too stream of consciousness for me.

  7. Detective Espinosa does a lot of thinking, but it’s not boring.
    And Claudia Piniero: I liked Thursday Night Widows, social commentary with character development.
    I have to investigate South American mysteries more. If only I read Spanish or Portuguese, I’d be in business.

    • Thanks for your take on these books I’ve been meaning to get to, Kathy. My reading pace is so slow these days, but I’m not wishing for more wintry weather for me to read more. We had our April snow overnight!

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