A review of Jorge Franco's Paradise Travel
The novel's characters are Colombian, but most of the action is in New York, and one gathers that this is supposed to speak truth in a societal as well as a narrative sense. Colombia, to Marlon's eye, is "a country where a tragedy was lurking around every corner, just waiting to put you into mourning," where Colombians "carried in their expressions all the despair and fatigue of having used up every possible option in this country," one in particular wearing "that guilty, apologetic look on her face, like all Colombians do, especially in foreign airports."
Franco's New York, for its part, projects rightly unequal parts menace and generosity. Early on, Marlon visualizes the city as a beast to be tamed. He luckily has a companion to correct his misimpression.
This author and this book are presented as leading representatives of Colombian literature's "McOndo" movement, which seems, on this lean evidence, to stress the curtly descriptive, the contemporary and the experiential, with an eye toward the uglier truths. There's a hardboiled vibe that recalls midcentury American detective fiction, if midcentury American detective fiction took as its hero the dog that got kicked on the detective's way out the door.
McOndo is a globalized play on the name of the village of Macondo, of One Hundred Years of Solitude lore. That knowledge helps very little in understanding this book, but it does let an average American reader, who hasn't read a page of Colombian fiction since One Hundred Years of Solitude in college, off the hook; thankfully one hasn't missed some crucial, juicy middle in the intervening three-plus decades since Gabriel García Márquez - and magic realism with him - entered North American mass consciousness.
Such an accessible back story, of course, is a large part of how an awkwardly titled (it's the name of the smuggling agency) and conventionally literary and (horror of unmarketable horrors) foreign book like Paradise Travel gets published in the United States at all these days.
But the inevitably misleading hook, however necessary to the book's chance in the marketplace, is purely incidental to its pleasures. When Marlon hits the streets of New York, he emerges almost literally a babe among his countrymen already there, themselves only tenuously acculturated. And even as he achieves small plateaus of guarded comfort, he finds himself faced with "the immigrant's curse: you don't want to stay, but you don't want to go back, either."
You can't, in fact, go back, as many others have written, of countries and of homes, and that's apparently the hell of it. It's as if when you leave, what you put behind you goes away, too. And what's left when that's gone is someplace you've never been, where you might easily lose yourself. As universal fears go, and as truthful fictions follow, this one feels distinctly, if not magically, real.
You can find the review here
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