Monday, August 16, 2010

Andean Express: Bolivian not-exactly-noir

Juan de Recacoechea may indeed be "Bolivia's heir to the classic noir of Jim Thompson and Raymond Chandler," as a blurb for his novel Andean Express proclaims. But this heir is more a second cousin than a direct descendant.

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?"

"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."
Lest you think things are about to get polemical, here's how the above exchange ends:

"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?"
***
Here's a bit of what I wrote about Recacoechea's novel American Visa. Like two other novels I had read recently, its "lively eye for its surroundings manages to keep it oddly upbeat despite the straitened or dangerous circumstances in which the protagonists find themselves." The same is true of Andean Express.

(Read an interview with Juan de Recacoechea, courtesy of solo.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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23 Comments:

Anonymous solo said...

Recacoechea? I have a hard time taking seriously a writer who has more vowels in his name than consonants. OK, just kidding.

Thanks for pointing us in the direction of something new, at least something new to me, someone I had never heard of before.

Your post doesn't have any links so may I link to this interview with, well, let's call him Juan.

The final part of the interview has this to say:

I had a Dutch girlfriend. And I had a Canadian friend, a very good friend. I was expecting this woman to come to Bolivia—this was many years ago—and live with me. But when she was in Paris, this Canadian friend of mine just, uh, you know, slept with her and they became lovers (laughs). And then one day she appeared in La Paz and says to me, “Here I am, I am escaping from my Canadian lover.” So that’s the drama of the novella, you know? I cannot say anymore, because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ll probably kill the Canadian. Or maybe I’ll kill them both.

South Americans, don't you just love them? Me, I'd be running for the hills. But not you, Peter. You're so brave. If the worst comes to the worst, you can be sure I'll send a spectacular wreath to your funeral.

August 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, Recacoechea! When I read his first novel three years ago, I had to check the pronunciation with a colleague who had been born in Ecuador before I would even attempt the name.

Thanks for the link; I may add it to the body of the post, with appropriate credit, of course.

I am Canadian, and I once had a Dutch girlfriend, but I've never known any Bolivian journalists-turned-novelists.

August 16, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

With a name like that he sounds like he belongs in Lowell George's classic song 'Willin' which he wrote and sang for the classic 'Little Feat' album, 'Sailin' Shoes'
(which I have in vinyl, cd, and cassette formats)

"....and I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari,....Tehacepi to Tanapah"

coincidentally, the cover kinda reminds me of Lee Van Cleef's train ride at the beginning of 'For A Few Dollars More'
(he gets off at, -yep, you guessed it, - Tucumcari)


The name also reminds me of a notably thuggish former Spanish football international, Goicocchea

August 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And here I had just about given up hope of finding a word that rhymed with Recacoechea.

August 16, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

'The butcher from Bilbao'

Goikoetxea is the Basque spelling of his name, which in its Spanish form is pronounced 'Goy-Kuh-Chay-a'.

Just looking up the Wiki reminded me that " on 24 September 1983, Goiko achieved notoriety for an infamous tackle on Diego Maradona in a league match at the Camp Nou, ferociously tackling the Argentine from behind and leaving him severely injured"
Face to match, too
Would make a great movie villain.

Watch out, Vinnie Jones!

August 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You have the last two syllabled of Recacoechea down already!

August 16, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

What do you mean?
The pronunciation?

Funny the names that stick with you
And I almost got the spelling right; I didn't check until after I made the first post.


Just started into my second Ross MacDonald/Archer, 'The Zebra Striped Hearse'
Its been over 15 years since I've last read a Chandler novel but I still believe there are signs of a strong Chandler influence.
I'm sure the opening scene is typical Chandler, if nothing else

Also, there are seem to be archetypes that he favours, and re-uses, though its another page-turner.
He fits a huge amount of detail into the conversations, and Archer, typically, wastes no time in getting around

August 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, the pronunciation '...-Chay-a'. The name is pronounced Reh-CA-co-eh-CHAY-a.

The protagonist of his frist novel proclaims an affinity for Chandler and Chester Himes, and that blurb for this book invoked Chandler and Thompson.

That demonstrates how elastic definitions are when it comes to hard-boiled and noir fiction.

August 16, 2010  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

I read and enjoyed AMERICAN VISA earlier this year for Dorte Jakobsen's 2010 Global Reading Challenge (one of my South American reads). I said:

"This book was quite different to the crime/thriller novels I usually read, but I found myself hooked, and really enjoying it. It is reminiscent of that classic mid-20th century American noir, with its dishevelled hero, mean and gritty streets, and situations that unfold into all sorts of unplanned bad places and outcomes.

Recacoechea's writing probably shines most in his evocation of La Paz, the highest capital city in the world - a bustling city full of change and history (I visited in late 2007), and the sense of disconnect and desperation felt by the 'hero'. AMERICAN VISA is quite a different book, and won't necessarily be enjoyed by all crime and thriller fans, but there is plenty of merit, interest, and thought-provoking themes to be found within its pages."

August 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's it: It's different from what many readers will think of as noir or hard-boiled or even crime fiction.

American Visa has murders, like crime fiction, and it has a journey of escape that doesn't turn out as intended, like noir, but the ending is not quite as noir as one night excepct, and I think it's best not to say too much more lest I give away too much.

August 17, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Savage said...

Akashic is publishing some interesting location noir collections. Mexico City Noir was a gritty read.

August 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It probably helped that the editor was as gritty a crime writer as crime writers get, Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

The most surptising titles in the series so far, to me anyway, are Portland Noir, Twin Cities Noir and the upcoming Cape Cod Noir.

August 17, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Savage said...

Who knew it was tough in Cape Cod?

Taibo is a great favourite of mine.

August 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One can imagine the sorts of crimes that happen in Cape Cod. Road rage during traffic jams on the Bourne Bridge. Or just about anywhere else. Murder traced to property-rights squabbles over strip malls or sand castles. Extortionate rates for weekend rentals.

August 18, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

"One can imagine the sorts of crimes that happen in Cape Cod. Road rage during traffic jams on the Bourne Bridge. Or just about anywhere else. Murder traced to property-rights squabbles over strip malls or sand castles

....not to mention a very public restaurant knife fight arising from arguments over the respective merits of lobster and crayfish, 'four Yorkshiremen' oneupmanship contests among 'old salts', and the revenge of, or on, a legendary local 'Jonah'.

Plenty of rich pickings, there!

August 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or squabbles among Boston and Providence gangsters enjoying a long weekend.

In fact, the choice of such an odd location points up one of the hazards of putting together stories built around the theme of a common location: the risk on the one hand of falling into too much local color, and on the other of justifying the story's inclusion in a collection called "Cape Cod (or Toronto, Indian Country, Havana, or what have you) Noir." The Dublin Noir volume, for example, included some fine stories, but it was not always clear what was so Dublin about them.

August 18, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

"The Dublin Noir volume, for example, included some fine stories, but it was not always clear what was so Dublin about them."
Funny you should say that, Peter, because when I saw your topic heading , "the truth, would you ever fuck off", my immediate thought was that I wish people wouldn't build in so obviously topical and notorious recent public incidents into their stories: to me it smacks of a lack of invention, and instantly both puts me off reading it, and also marking down the writer.
Which might be unfair but knee-jerk reactions can be well-judged, on occasion

Also the thing both of us have showed in our Cape Cod examples is our expectations for generic noirs, may lead to disappointment if the stories lack sufficient local colour.


btw, 146 pages into 'The Zebra-Striped Herse' and I think it might be a worthwhile Lew Archer starting -off point for you.
He packs a helluva lot of (always pertinent) detail into his conversations,- so much so that you wish he would just occasionally take time out to 'shoot the breeze', - and compresses action to such an extent that he leaves one almost perpetually breathless, but its impulsively readable, and page-turnable, but I'm wondering of the significance of the title, which seemed only of peripheral interest, and hasn't featured in a hundred pages or so

August 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, what am I missing? What about that post's title sparked your observation about recent topical events? There is reason to be wary of such references in fiction, but the topicality of "The truth? Would you fuck off, would you?" went right over my head.

A title like "Dublin/San Antonio/Medicine Hat/Dombach-la-Ville Noir" can indicate at least two things: a focus on writing about the area, or on writing by authors from that area. I suspect that the emphasis varies from volume to volume within the Akashic series, especially since I also suspect, without being sure, that the editors of each book have considerable latitude in their choice of stories to include.

Thanks on the Archer recommendation. I like that title.

August 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Guy, I forgot to mention that Taibo is scheduled to be part of an international noir panel that I hope to attend next month. I may bone up on my Taibo so I can ask him some good questions other than the obvious ones about politics, Mexican society, and crime writing as a vehicle for discussing both.

August 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

There is reason to be wary of such references in fiction, but the topicality of "The truth? Would you fuck off, would you?" went right over my head.
Peter, I'm sure it must be a reference to a similar outburst made by an attention-seeking TD, Paul Gogarty, in the Dáil, recently
(the same Mr Gogarty regularly looks to raise his public profile both as 'man of the people' and 'crusader')
I'm sure he'll be disappointed that hasn't (yet) reached Philly

August 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Near as I can tell, Gogarty made the reference on Dec. 11, 2009, and Declan Burke was discussing the book at least as early as November. Of course, the dapper, low-key Gogarty could have made similar statements earlier.

August 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

You're certainly 'on the ball' this morning!
"Great minds!",...'prophetic'???

Near as I can tell, Gogarty made the reference on Dec. 11, 2009, and Declan Burke was discussing the book at least as early as November."

Gogarty will be even more disappointed that I had been unaware of a previous such utterance, if such was the case!

August 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I was thinking that if Glynn had used Gogarty's statement, his putting it in the mouth of an old guy in a wheelchair (albeit mentally sharp) -- totally removed from the current scene, in other words -- might have been a clever dig.

August 19, 2010  

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