15 July 2010
Review: RED APRIL, Santiago Roncagliolo
First published in English, Pantheon Books US, 2009
Translated into English by Edith Grossman 2009
Kindle Version Atlantic Books 2010
RED APRIL covers the period Thursday March 9 - Wednesday May 3, 2000. It is set in Ayucucha, Peru.
On Wednesday, the eighth day of March, 2000, as he passed through the area surrounding his domicile in the locality of Quinua, Justino Maya Catazo (31) discovered a body.
This opening sentence is the "hook" that gets the reader into RED APRIL. It is also the beginning of a report by Associate District Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar into the discovery, by Justino Maya, of a charred body lying next to him in a hay loft. Maya has been celebrating Carnival for 3 days with dancing and drinking and barely remembers passing out in the hay loft. The body is found to be missing an arm. There's a cross on its forehead and it is Ash Wednesday.
Chacaltana's formal report is a remarkably convoluted document, following all the prescribed procedures, words chosen with precision. It requires police corroboration and signature which he finds extraordinarily to obtain.
It is the eve of the national elections and the beginning of Lent.
Chacaltana is originally from Ayacucho, but has lived in Lima since he was a boy. He has returned after an absence of twenty years to be with his mother. The terrorism that has marked the past in Ayacucho has gone. But Chacaltana begins to wonder if in fact terrorism is dead, or is the local brand, the Senerista, the Sendero Luminosa, still very much alive, and responsible for this murder?
Sunday March 12 2000 is the official start of Lent, with the parade in Ayacucho, established by decree in 1994 at the request of the archbishop. As the community moves through religious observances and public events towards the resurrection of Christ, Chacaltana increasingly comes to believe he is seeing the resurgence of terrorism. His role changes from prosecutor to investigator, and his relationship with the local police and military changes.
There's so much I haven't told you about this novel but I recommend you make this journey of discovery for yourself. I found the first quarter of the book quite difficult to read, and then it seemed as if the author grew into his task. But by then I had worked out whose the "voices" were, and how the book was structured.
You need to remind yourself too that the reader is being given a window into Peruvian culture, fascinating stories to absorb, an underlying critique of a political system where the president is re-elected even when the vote goes against him. There is more than one murder, and when Prosecutor Chacaltano deduces the pattern, I found myself predicting what the next would be like, and who it would be. I didn't expect the ending.
I read RED APRIL as part of the 2010 Global Reading Challenge
Santiago Roncagliolo was born in Lima, Peru, in 1975.
RED APRIL will be published in eleven languages and marks his debut in English.
The book is based on factual events of Holy week 2000, but all the characters and most of the situations and places are fictitious, and factual details have been manipulated.
Santiago Roncagliolo is the youngest ever winner of Spain's Alfaguara Prize, awarded to him in 2006 for this book. He currently lives in Barcelona.
Other reviews to check: The Guardian, Farm Lane Books, Reading Matters