In this 1994 Bolivian bestseller, written as an antidote to what de Recacoechea considered an overdose of magical-realism in Latin literature, a schoolteacher with a taste for American crime fiction sees the underside of La Paz as he awaits a visa to enter the United States.
Near-broke, provincial, middle-aged Mario Alvarez seems a bit like an older, only slightly wiser, but oddly more likable Holden Caulfield. Clad in a well-tailored suit, armed with fake documents, Mario hopes to snow the American consular authorities who will decide whether he may redeem the plane ticket to Miami sent to him by his son. Checked into a hotel that is middle-class only by comparison to the places that rent to the country’s desperate Indian peasants, Mario finds himself in company with, among others, a washed up soccer player, an amiable ancient intellectual and a luscious, level-headed hooker named Blanca. When he finally gains the courage to apply for the visa, Mario, scared by the thoroughness of the team that will examine his papers, flees to a “fixer” willing to get him the visa for $800. Down to his last pesos and a handful of gold pebbles from his late father, the schoolteacher spends several days hatching a plot to come up with the funds and doing some serious drinking in the seedy bars and bordellos that make life in La Paz interesting. Before the story lurches into the world of crime, Mario has some pleasant exchanges with the delightful Blanca and an eye-opening evening at a posh party for the brother of a dazzling but unattainable beauty, whom he meets after stealing a book.
A serious novel made palatable by humor as dry as the Andean uplands in which it is set.