A masterful debut in which a Peruvian literary critic and scholar crafts a metamystery that explores identity, deceit, guilt and narrative.
The plot seems simple enough, until it doesn’t. Narrator Gustavo (who has the same first name as the author) is a psycholinguist who receives an out-of-the-blue call from his closest friend, Daniel, with whom he’s had no contact for three years. Daniel apparently wants to talk about what happened back then, when he was accused of killing his fiancee in a jealous rage and subsequently attempted suicide, and what has happened since, during his confinement in a mental hospital. From that setup, strands of narrative intertwine: stories of Gustavo and Daniel in the formative days of their friendship; stories of Daniel and his disturbed sister, who disappeared; stories about Daniel’s obsession with older books, which somehow involves him in a “mafia that traffics in human body parts.” Interspersed with these stories are fables and parables from the novel’s title character, who merges with one of its main characters. Against a backdrop of clashing armies and acts of terrorism, Gustavo and Daniel resume their relationship, with the former starting to feel like a “fictional detective” who “felt more like I was being played with by an army of hooded puppeteers.” Is Daniel the one pulling those strings? Did he commit the murder to which he confessed? Has he committed others? Daniel has plainly enlisted Gustavo to find out something, but what if Gustavo’s discovery incriminates Daniel? As one character suggests, “[t]he moments from the past or from the future, the unreal scenes from tales, dreams, the projects we push aside each day that exist in the doubt we stop having in order to live—they’re all worlds as true as this one.” Within these worlds, the novel finds a provisional truth.
Rarely does a literary mystery work on as many levels as this.