A tale of equivocal heroes, treacherous revolutionaries, and rejected love as an intellectual struggles to learn the truth about his family.
Bolivian author Paz Soldán, currently teaching at Cornell, evokes a gritty urban milieu permeated by pop culture and technology as he tells the story of thirtysomething Pedro Zabalgo. An assistant professor with a Berkeley Ph.D., Pedro is teaching courses in Latin American politics at the University of Madison in upstate New York, where he has met and fallen in love with graduate student Ashley. In alternate chapters, Pedro recalls how he met Ashley, how they fell in love, and how their affair developed. Now on sabbatical in Rio Fugitivo, Bolivia, Pedro is trying to find out the truth about his father, Pedro Reissig, who was a revolutionary hero of the 1970s, as well as author of the cult novel Berkeley, which, with cryptic references and ambiguous protagonists, evokes the turbulent years he spent studying, like his son, at Berkeley. Before he left Madison, Pedro broke up with—but can’t forget—Ashley, who subsequently has married another man. Memories of her, and uncertainties about the circumstances of his father’s death, preoccupy him, and he finds it difficult to begin his search. His father, whose body was never found, was believed to have been betrayed by a colleague who led the government soldiers to their meeting place. As he pores over Berkeley for insights into his father, and advises a druglord on his memoirs, there are mysterious bombings in the city. Pedro also hears conflicting stories about his father and begins to suspect his uncle David, a noted setter of cryptic puzzles and the only conspirator to have survived, of being responsible for the old man’s death.
Pedro, like all overly cerebral protagonists, thinks more than he acts, and when he does act, he often gets it wrong. In all: more craft than art.