JAKARTA by Rodrigo Márquez Tizano


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An impressionistic, abstract portrait of a society clawing back from a viral epidemic.

The unnamed narrator of Tizano’s debut lives in Atlantika, which seems constructed out of stray parts from other dystopian novels. The ruling government is a technocratic autocracy that soothes the populace by encouraging it to bet on games of Vakapý, a modified version of jai alai played by robots. (The Orwellian-sounding Department of Chaos and Gaming handles the transactions.) A devastating outbreak called the Ź-Bug has wiped out a chunk of the population, and the narrator of the novel is a veteran of the Ź-Brigađe, charged with clearing rats from sewers and other unpleasant sites. Back at home, the narrator’s partner, Clara, is consulting with a large, vaguely oracular glowing stone that calls up, among other things, memories of the narrator's classmates at a religious school before they were pressed into Ź-Bug service. The novel’s milieu evokes Philip K. Dick at his gloomiest, and the narrator’s mood can be as defeated as anybody’s in Atwood or Orwell. (“Progress, hope, all of that: I never bought any of it.”) Its style is unique to Tizano, however. The novel is structured in numbered paragraphs, each an often digressive study of a childhood memory, a vision from the stone, or Atlantika’s despairing society. The nonlinear approach can befuddle, and though translator Bunstead ably stabilizes the tone, stray plot threads can be hard to parse. (Is the snow there really red, or is the narrator imagining things?) The title partly refers to a code name for the narrator, and the story invites readings as an allegory for our loss of identity in the face of social and epidemiological threats. Clear lessons are in short supply, though.

An assured but challenging anti-narrative, its offbeat structure evoking a world slipped off its axis.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-56689-563-7
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019


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