Red April-Santiago Roncagliolo
Novel in translation
Red April evokes Holy Week during a cruel, bloody, and terrifying time in Peru's history, shocking for its corrosive mix of assassination, bribery, intrigue, torture, and enforced disappearance - a war between grim, ideologically driven terrorism and morally bankrupt government counterinsurgence. Mother-haunted, wife-abandoned, literature-loving, quietly eccentric Felix Chacaltana Saldivar is a hapless, by-the-book, unambitious prosecutor living in Lima. Until now he has lived a life in which nothing exceptionally good or bad has ever happened to him. But, inexplicably, he has been put in charge of a bizarre and horrible murder investigation. As it unfolds by propulsive twists and turns -full of paradoxes and surprises- Saldivar is compelled to confront what happens to a man and society when death becomes the only certainty.
I found it hard to get into at first but I'm not sure why because once I fell into the flow, I couldn't put it down. It starts out with some comedy in which there is optimism and clear signs that this is a country to love but then proceeds to kill all that off. This is not quite a detective novel. I'm no stranger to gritty and tough-to-read books but this is definitely amongst the most gritty. It is set in one of the most violent places, Ayacucho in Peru, where the communist party began its bloody reign of terror in 1980. In the book, these terrorists are still terrorizing but are more swept under the carpet. The deaths are described in detail and they're grisly. There's rape and bombs and animal cruelty. This is one of the worst periods in Peruvian/Latin American history and you feel it deep in your gut while reading Red April.
Saldivar is completely unable to handle the situations he encounters as he's straight laced to the point of inflexibility and his ability to have personal relationships is so stunted it's ludicrous. In a way, he reflects the country which tries to handle the situation but fails to do so. He is haunted by his mother, history, memory, and blood. It's a rough read since it's unrelentingly bleak.
You could take at its face value and simply read it as a rather entertaining (for violence-liking sensibilities) read or delve into its rather intelligent core (the mystery is in fact solved). I put the sideways first because I spent far too long just horrified by the book but in the end, I appreciated it.