Thursday, May 2, 2013

narco culture

I had the good fortune to visit Colombia in 1960 during a time when violence was at a low point for the country. Medellín then was a bright, tropical city. Bogotá was cold and gray by comparison, but the people were equally warm and hospitable.

Laura Restrepo's novel, Delirio, is set in a time two decades later when the country was in the terrible grip of Pablo Escobar's Medellín cartel.  Restrepo illustrates that story in the way it plays out in the lives of a couple living in Bogotá.  Aguilar is a former university professor reduced to peddling dog food.  His wife, Agustina, is beautiful and demented, condemned to endlessly sort through her memories of her family's entrapment and complicity in the drug trade.

I read and enjoyed Restrepo's early novel, La Isla de La Pasión, in which the author demonstrated her talent for weaving together plausible stories from bits of history and improbable fictional characters.

I put off reading Delirio for a long time, however, because Restrepo's vocabulary and stylistic choices make her writing something of a stretch for me as a non-native Spanish speaker. The inter-mixing of first, second and third person narrative modes -- often in the same paragraph -- also made this novel particularly challenging for me at first.

As often happens, however, plodding onward got me better in touch with the story line.  I also found it helpful to read some reviews including Terrence Rafferty's 2007 review in the NY Times and another from 2004 at by Roger Santodomingo.  Wikipedia provides a good account of the role in Colombia's history of drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar. The Wikipedia page on Laura Restrepo reads like a bad translation, but it does give a pretty good overview of her extraordinary life history which has provided inspiration for her writing.

Delirio won the Alfaguara Prize in 2004 and the book is available in ebook format from that publisher.  I would like to have read it that way, but I'm just not willing to put out 8 euros for ephemeral digital bits.  I'm reading the paperback edition for free from the Albuquerque Public Library.

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