Labyrinthine conspiracies and betrayals highlight this novel of South American upheaval, abetted by the CIA and British intelligence.
Named the best novel of 2011 in the author’s native Brazil, this tale of international intrigue (Graham Greene might provide the best comparison) shows how malleable concepts of left and right, and right and wrong, can be during extended periods of political unrest and military repression. A diplomat with the Brazilian Foreign Service before turning to journalism, criticism and fiction (I Would Have Loved Him if I Had Not Killed Him, 1994), the author may well have experienced some of what he writes, for his nuanced and psychologically incisive rendering of survival strategies and personal costs rings true. At the heart of the novel is a half-century’s relationship between the narrator, a career Brazilian diplomat, and the mysterious Max, the narrator’s colleague and initially his friend, though Max shows himself capable of serving opposing causes and countries, sometimes simultaneously. As he explains, “[c]onvictions are a luxury my friend. Reserved for those who don’t play the game.” And Max apparently plays the game very well, though there’s often some question as to who’s using (or watching) whom. “We seemed to be part of a large-scale puzzle, in which numerous pieces were missing,” says the narrator, who discovers that those pieces include cocaine, nuclear weaponry, sexual indiscretion, American subterfuge and the systematic dismantling of democracy throughout South America, most often through military juntas with outside support. But if this was a game, the losers paid a dear price: “I found myself thinking that, in the space of a generation, thousands of people south of the equator had been imprisoned, tortured, and killed in the name of priorities long since forgotten,” the narrator says. “What place could there be for dramas now relegated to the academic world—on a planet deprived of memory?”
A masterful novel that extends over decades and continents yet remains focused on the complexities of individual characters.