A reporter investigates corruption and wrestles with complex personal entanglements in this tense novel set in 1970s Mexico.
Aguilar Camín’s novel spans more than a decade in the life of its narrator, an unnamed journalist whose slow ascent toward prominence—one character calls him “a national opinionmaker”—acts as a backdrop for the events that follow. The first chapter traces the narrator’s friend Rojano’s slow rise in politics and sets up the complex dynamic between Rojano and his wife, Anabela, for whom the narrator not-so-secretly pines. What emerges from this is an intricate maze of corruption involving land rights, megalomaniacal union officials, crime scene photos of dubious authenticity, and public figures less than concerned with the public good. One particularly sinister figure is fond of the phrase “whoever can add can divide,” which occurs throughout the book, sounding equally inspirational and threatening. The narrator’s world-weary observations crop up again and again: he notes that a man nicknamed Smiley was thus dubbed after a gunshot to the face, which “left him with an indelible smile that couldn’t be wiped off.” That balance of violence and gallows humor infuses the novel. Another character tells the narrator that “history is full of revolutions the police have outlived,” which furthers the cynical mood. Over the course of the novel, Anabela becomes more and more prominent, and the narrator is often left to puzzle over the motivation behind, and truth of, a series of violent acts in the wake of her clashes with a union leader. Aguilar Camín’s fondness for using specific dates in the narrative furthers the sense of realism, even as the novel’s events become more ambiguous.
This ambitious novel memorably brings together recent history, horrific crimes, and an ever present sense of corruption.