First novel by a Chilean literary scholar who serves up a centrifugal story of death, history, and mathematics.
Felipe Arrabal, a young man living in Santiago, and his friend Iquela have an unusual ability: They can see the dead, legions of whom are to be found in what he describes as “the strangest of places: lying at bus stops, on curbs, in parks, hanging from bridges and traffic lights, floating down the Mapocho.” The dead are everywhere, and Felipe uses “apocalyptic maths” to try to account for them all, millions on millions, their number added to dramatically by the murderous military government of Pinochet and company. Iquela’s heart goes aflutter when she meets Paloma, an ever so cool young woman who has come to Santiago from Berlin; she smokes, has blonde hair, looks tough, and knows the ways of the world. Paloma is so mysterious that a cop wonders whether to bust her for smoking underage “or let her do as she pleased.” Clearly Paloma does what she pleases most of the time, raised, like Iquela, in a home that has deep, hidden roots in the anti-Pinochet resistance movement. “We were so young,” laments Iquela’s mother, looking back on the day she met Paloma’s mom, who, alas, has died—and now her body has gone missing somewhere on the other side of the Andes. She might be anywhere, Iquela observes: in an airplane hangar, in a morgue, back home in Berlin, or “locked inside the photograph hanging on the wall of my mother’s dining room.” Clueless, the three go on a winding journey in search of the wayward body, adding “an improvised inventory of corpses” to Felipe’s endless calculations. The story is told matter-of-factly, with a few hints of magical realism layered in, especially as it draws to a close: They might be angels or Valkyries, perhaps ghosts themselves, but whatever they are, they’re memorable companions on a strange trip.
Thanatofiction at its best and a debut that leaves the reader wanting more.