Andean Express, second of the author's novels published in English translation by Akashic Books, is more like 1940s American movies that are called film noir now but were referred to as melodramas when first released. It also feels like a road movie, with all the sense of discovery that implies, and, at times, like a coming-of-age tale.
Melodrama? The novel assembles a disparate collection of characters on a train from La Paz bound for Chile in 1952. Romantic yearning? Some of them dream of journey's end, when they will see the ocean for the first time. Road movie? The novel is full of glimpses out the train's windows and onto solitary herders, isolated villages, and the vast, lonely, windswept altiplano.
Since the journey takes place on a train, you know scores will be settled, burning passions acted upon, and a character cheated at cards. And, of course, one will die, a mystery to all but the killer.
"Are you on the run?"Lest you think things are about to get polemical, here's how the above exchange ends:
"You don't need to be too smart to reach that conclusion. The mine bosses' political police have my number. If they catch me they'll take me straight to jail. I have to make it to Chile. I'll live in self-exile until things change. You don't know much about politics, do you?"
"I don't, unfortunately. I don't like politics."
"Whether or not you like it isn't the point. It's part of your life. In Bolivia, anyone who stays out of politics is despicable. ... things can't go on like this. Or do you think we're in the best of worlds?"
"I don't know."
"That's more like it. You and I will make a good team. I'll go to the dining car and have a cup of tea. Can you loan me ten pesos?"
(Read an interview with Juan de Recacoechea, courtesy of solo.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2010