This is a formidably accomplished first novel. Alarcón's nameless country feels as intensely real as the riotous flora of its rainforests or the reeking slums of its cities. Yet its location beyond any map allows him to synthesise the ordeals of many places into a fable of loss and longing that decodes the "indecipherable text" of every murky civil war. As I found out in Colombia this year, the unfinished business of Latin America's armed conflicts - in states with a semblance of political peace, but no proper social resolution - has been preying on creative minds across the continent.
Alarcón surveys this "postconflict" landscape in a style that weds gravity to grace - but he does so as an Anglophone author rooted in Hispanic realities. We know that fiction in English has flourished for over half a century in the Indian subcontinent. Much more recent is the wave of Anglophone writing from regions that lack the same history of colonisation or settlement. The Bogotá "39 under 39" list has another rising star who only writes in English: Junot Diaz from the Dominican Republic, but now settled in the US.
In the past, a literary shift of tongues signalled a permanent state of exile or emigration: think of Nabokov, or Conrad. Now we enjoy more flexible times, in which a writer such as Alarcón can be claimed, and acclaimed, by two continents at once. Yet it's still the English language that tends to reap the benefits of this hybridity. Secure in its hegemony, English can say to the world, "Make yourself at home". Even if, in this case, the Spanish sounds far sweeter: Mi casa es tu casa. Read More
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