Monday, September 30, 2019

Surrealistic Roadie

When I read Latin American literature, I usually do so in English—partly because my own Spanish, though fluent, is more academic than idiomatic, and partly because English is, presumably, the native language of most readers of this blog. I also want to provide an idea of the availability of Latin American literature—mostly Argentine and Chilean—to an English-speaking audience.
Trabucco's novel won the Man Booker International Prize.
Even that is a challenge with Alia Trabucco Zerán’s novel The Remainder which, for lack of a more inspired description, I’ll call a Chilean millennial version of Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realism. Trabucco Zerán is part of the generation whose parents supported Salvador Allende’s “Chilean way to socialism” and suffered (or died) under the lengthy dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Trabucco’s protagonists are three young Chileans, two women and a man, one of whose parents has recently died in German exile but expressed her desire to be interred in her South American homeland. When a mysterious ash storm halts flights into Santiago, the three have to cross the Andes into Argentina—in a loaner hearse—to fetch the mother’s casket at the airport in Mendoza.
Trabucco's characters don't see the same landscape I do when crossing the Andes to Argentina.
Having crossed this border many times—though never in a hearse—I found the stream-of-consciousness narration hard to follow, perhaps because I view the crossing from the viewpoint spectacular landscapes rather than as part of a surrealistic mission that gets even more so when the three amigos have trouble locating the body and, then, getting it released into their custody. The narrators take such liberties with geography that I found it difficult to follow, even as I could sympathize with their quest (I lived in Chile during part of the Pinochet dictatorship, and can still recall measures like Santiago’s 11 p.m. curfew, though I never personally felt any threat there).
Maybe I’ll have to reread this, at a more leisurely pace, to get as much out of it as Chilean millennials dealing with their parental hangover traumas would. On the other hand, I might prefer to see it as a black comedy, perhaps in the hands of nonagenarian film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky (the trailer above is from his cult classic El Topo). Whatever the result, I’d have to say “Don’t try this at home.”
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