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Red April: A Novel Hardcover – April 28, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Book Description
A chilling, internationally acclaimed political thriller, Red April is a grand achievement in contemporary Latin American fiction, written by the youngest winner ever of the Alfaguara Prize—one of the most prestigious in the Spanish-speaking world—and translated from the Spanish by one of our most celebrated literary translators, Edith Grossman. It evokes Holy Week during a cruel, bloody, and terrifying time in Peru’s history, shocking for its corrosive mix of assassination, bribery, intrigue, torture, and enforced disappearance—a war between grim, ideologically-driven terrorism and morally bankrupt government counterinsurgency.

Mother-haunted, wife-abandoned, literature-loving, quietly eccentric Felix Chacaltana Saldivar is a hapless, by-the-book, unambitious prosecutor living in Lima. Until now he has lived a life in which nothing exceptionally good or bad has ever happened to him. But, inexplicably, he has been put in charge of a bizarre and horrible murder investigation. As it unfolds by propulsive twists and turns—full of paradoxes and surprises—Saldivar is compelled to confront what happens to a man and a society when death becomes the only certainty in life.

Stunning for its self-assured and nimble clarity of style—reminiscent of classic noir fiction—the inexorable momentum of its plot, and the moral complexity of its concerns, Red April is at once riveting and profound, informed as it is by deft artistry in the shaping of conflict between competing venalities. As the New York Times declares, “Lima is once again one of Latin America’s brightest literary scenes.”

Amazon Exclusive: Santiago Roncagliolo on Red April

I have always loved thrillers. In particular, I’ve always loved serial killer thrillers, like David Fincher’s Seven or Allan Moore's From Hell. Serial killers puts readers or spectators in touch with their darkest and most animal impulses, while making an intriguing plot.

I also wanted to write about war, or at least, about the scars from war. As a Peruvian, I was raised in a society where 70,000 people died during the eighties. Army and terrorists were killing so many people that they were hardly different from each other. In the last few years, the same things have happened in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the same fear I felt in Lima under the bombs and blackouts is felt by people from New York after September 11th or Madrid after March 11th. Therefore, I thought I had a story to tell that would be interesting to read all over.

A thriller needs a good location. I had the traditional Holy Week from Ayacucho, a really scary celebration representing the Death and Resurrection of Christ. During one night of Holy Week, everyone turns off all the electric lights in the villages. Among the only light of thousands of candles, a naked and blood-bathed image of Christ is taken all around the city, as if it were slowly floating in the dark. And that is just one night. Holy Week was the perfect place to convey the Catholic myths of eternal life as well as the Andean concept of eternal return, two versions of death, and triumph over death. Any psycho would love to work there. --Santiago Roncagliolo

(Photo © Eric Molgora)

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Roncagliolo's stunning debut, about the brutality of Peruvian society under the Fujimori regime, merits comparison to the work of J.M. Coetzee. In 2000, associate district prosecutor Félix Chacaltana Saldívar, who's returned to the province of Ayacucho from Lima, clashes with his superiors after the discovery of a charred and mutilated corpse. Rigidly adhering to bureaucratic procedure, Saldívar demands that an official police report on the crime be filed, despite the active resistance of the police and the local military commander. The prosecutor's refusal to abort his inquiry threatens the official line that the Shining Path terrorists are a thing of the past. Eventually, he's reassigned to help monitor elections, only to encounter more corruption. Within the frame of a puzzling whodunit, Roncagliolo crafts an unsparing view of life controlled by a repressive and paranoid government. A mother fixation, social awkwardness and a desire to impress others lend complexity to the protagonist. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Peruvian Intrigue
Read the first chapter of Santiago Roncagliolo's political thriller, Red April [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375425446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375425448
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,444,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In 2000, associate district prosecutor Felix Saldivar has spent much of his career in Lima avoiding conflict. However, the almost only ash remains of a corpse found ironically on Ash Wednesday in Ayacucho changes his detachment when he is sent by his superiors to lead the official inquiry in his birth place.

Adhering strictly to standard operating procedures, Saldivar interviews the locals, but gets nothing of use from them. He asks Police Captain Pacheco for a copy of their report, but is ignored as none have been filed. Instead the police and the military command ignore his questions and requests. In spite of the evidence he has collected, he rejects the obvious answer that the deceased was a victim of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorists because officially the group no longer exists. However, even Saldivar who buries his head in the sand notices that anyone who chats with him dies. He still writes an inane report with no supporting evidence to validate his claim, but defends the position of the army brass that terrorism no longer exists in Peru. His reward for this is to observe an election in a remote village where violence is the norm as the "nonexistent" Sendero openly operates death squads.

This is a terrific, radically unique Peruvian police procedural that looks deeply at the people ravaged by the brutality of the Fujimori government and the Shining Light; neither side lets human rights stand in the way of achieving their agenda. The whodunit is intriguing as the villagers understand facts do not matter to an authoritarian big brother government obsessed with mistrust and the insurgents are perhaps more paranoid and deadlier. The career bureaucrat is phobic, obsessive, and impulsive with a need to impress, which have nothing to do with the facts.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having sat out the guerilla insurgency in Lima, Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana has returned to his hometown of Ayacucho. The Army has crushed the rebellion and the tourists are beginning to return for Ayacucho's famous Holy Week. In the course of a routine murder investigation, the eccentric Prosecutor Chacaltana comes across an incinerated body with a missing arm. The savage mutilation inflicted on the corpse has all the hallmarks of a ritualized Sendero Luminoso killing. The question of whether the guerilla war is re-igniting is at the heart of this prize winning novel.

In the Anglo-American tradition of the crime thriller, there may be corruption but in the end the system works. Criminals are caught and justice is done. There are different rules in the Latin crime novel. The system works but there are a different hidden set of rules that only the insiders know. It is a cynical, old world view of justice. The thrill of the Latin crime novel is experiencing another way to see the world. For those interested in this different perspective, check out the works of Paco Ignacio Taibo(Mexico), Leonard Sciascia(Italy), Rubem Fonseca (Brazil) and Michael Dibdin (Anglo Irish-Italy).

It is estimated that nearly 70,000 Peruvians were killed or dissapeared from 1980 to 2000. Countless additional thousands were injured or severely traumatized as a result of the guerilla war. Along with all the suffering, one of the consequences of the conflict is that Peru has become one of Latin America's literary hot spots. There is nothing like a cruel civil war to inspire literary introspection. Following in the foot steps of Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru is producing talented, world class writers like Alonso Cueto, Jaime Bayly and the gifted Peruvian-American Daniel Alarcon. Santiago Roncagliolo is a major talent and along with his generation of fellow writers, they are putting Peru on the world literary map.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a mystery that will probably leave fans of the genre disappointed, and that is why I have only chosen four stars. Like Peru's violent and bloody history, the story is not clear-cut or unequivocal.

For obscure reasons, Felix Chacaltana Saldivar, Associate District Proscutor, requests a transfer from Lima back to Ayacucho, from where he fled at an early age after his mother was killed in a fire. The plot unfolds during Lent in this small Peruvian city, so rich in historical significance. For those readers who are interested, I'll share a few pieces of information that I was driven to look up in order better to relate everything that happens. Ayacucho has been a seat of genocide and conquest from its historical beginnings when early tribal groups were
decimated by the Incas who were decimated by Spanish conquistadors who were finally vanquished in a famous battle at Ayacucho that established Peruvian independence. "Aya" is translated as "dead" or "soul," so the very name of the city contains the idea of death. While Lima became the seat of white- and mestizo-dominated, Spanish-speaking power, rural Ayachucho with its Quenchua-speakers constituted the oppressed and marginalized. It was in Ayacucho that the Shining Path developed, and in such rural areas, the bloodiest violence took place both by and against such terrorists.

Chacaltana becomes involved with serial killings for which the explanation is incoherence. As they proceed, the killings become more barbaric and seem to combine elements of paganism, religious ritual, and violence. Part of solving the mystery involves understanding why people are killed like this.
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