2010 Books in Translation Other Prizes Thriller

Red April – Santiago Roncagliolo

 Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

Winner of 2006 Alfaguara Prize

Red April appealed to me for a number of reasons. The fact that the author was the youngest person ever to win the Alfaguara Prize (the most prestigious award for Spanish Literature) intrigued me. This, along with comparisons to Roberto Bolaño and a translation from the Queen of Spanish literature, Edith Grossman, had me requesting a copy from the publisher. I’m really pleased that I did as it is a fantastic book.

Red April is set in Peru and follows an unambitious police prosecutor who finds himself at the centre of a bizarre murder investigation. The corruption and unstable political situation of the country make the task of discovering the murderer even harder, especially when he discovers that few people are interested in the truth.

The book reminded me of 2666, but the crucial difference between the two is that things actually happen in Red April.

The plot is fast paced and reaches a satisfactory conclusion, successfully combining a complex thriller with deeper political commentary.

“The party has a thousand eyes and a thousand ears,” said Durango, smiling with inexpressive eyes fixed on those of the prosecutor. “They’re the eyes and ears of the people. It is impossible to lock up and kill all the people, somebody’s always there. Like God. Remember that.”

The religious beliefs of the Peruvians are also covered – I loved learning about their rituals and festivals. If nothing else this book taught me a lot about their way of life.

If I had to make a few small criticisms it would be that the political situation isn’t fully explained. This means that prior knowledge (or a bit of googling!) is required to fully appreciate some sections.

The characters are also hard to love. All of them commit some form of evil during the course of the book. This means that it isn’t possible to empathise with anyone – you have to simply enjoy the story telling without connecting with anyone on a personal level.

Overall, this is an impressive debut novel that I’d highly recommend to fans of Roberto Bolaño or similar Spanish literature.