📖 🇻🇪 #40: A Venezuelan story of survival
Karina Sainz Borgo on grieving a mother and a country
Welcome to Bookmarked, a weekly newsletter following my journey as I read one book from every country. If you like the sound of my project, I’d love it if you shared Bookmarked with a friend.
Karina Sainz Borgo’s It Would be Night in Caracas is an extremely powerful story about life under a dictatorship. Set in Caracas and narrated by a thirtysomething woman called Adelaida, the story switches back and forth between a hopeful past, in which European immigrants move to Venezuela to set up homes, and the present, in which citizens are routinely arrested and tortured, basic items like sanitary pads are rationed, and blackouts are a regular occurrence.
The novel opens with Adelaida planning her recently deceased mother’s funeral. On the way home from the graveyard, she comes across a group of government loyalists known as the Fatherland’s Motorized Fleet. The group operate under state-sanctioned immunity, controlling food rations and killing protestors.
It’s not long before another patrol of loyalists, the Sons of the Revolution, set up an outpost across the street from Adelaida’s apartment. One day, upon returning home from the bakery, Adelaida finds that they have taken over. “This apartment is ours now,” says a woman dressed in Adelaida’s mother’s clothes.
Across the hallway, Adelaida finds the corpse of her neighbour Aurora alongside a letter from the Spanish Embassy regarding Aurora’s passport application. Devastated, furious, and desperate to flee Venezuela, Adelaida disposes of Aurora’s corpse and pockets her Spanish passport. Stealing Aurora’s identity is the only way Adelaida can conceive of leaving the country.
But before she can do anything, Adelaida must first hide in Aurora’s apartment, turning a blind eye to the brutality going on outside. She is joined by her friend’s brother, who has recently escaped the Sons of the Revolution and lives in fear of being found.
That afternoon I wanted to have hooks for hands. To kill everyone by just moving my arms, like a mortal windmill. I grit my teeth so hard I broke a molar, which I spat into pieces against the granite floor. I swore through my broken tooth at the country that was expelling me. I still belonged to it, even if I didn’t form part of it. Hate had grown inside me. It hardened, like a spike in my stomach.
In lean prose, Borgo writes Adelaida’s interiority well, painting a heartbreaking picture of how an individual can both mourn the death of a loved one and become numb to mass brutality. Adelaida’s trauma is raw and routine: “In a place where death was equated with casualties from a plague, the body of Adelaida Falcón, my mother, was a cold cut, one lifeless body and one so many others,” she says.
The second half of the book, in which Adelaida plans her escape from Venezuela, is much more plot-driven than the first. For me, this was a welcome shift in pace. Whilst Borgo’s prose is undoubtedly evocative, I felt that the book’s first half didn’t fall into a natural rhythm. Nonetheless, introducing elements of the thriller as Adelaida plans her escape brings the story to a neat finish. A complicated, heart-breaking, terrifying book that I’m certainly glad to have picked up.
It Would be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo, translated by Elizabeth Bryer (HarperVia, 2019 / Lumen 2019)
More books by Venezuelan authors:
Here’s a list of everything else I was recommended this week:
The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka, tr. Margaret Jull Costa
Ana Isabel: A Respectable Girl by Antonia Palacios, tr. RoseAnna Mueller
Iphigenia by Teresa de la Parra, tr. Bertie Acker
Blue Label by Eduardo J. Sánchez Rugeles, tr. Paul Filev
Doña Inés vs. Oblivion by Ana Teresa Torres, tr. Gregory Rabassa Rabassa
The Relentless City by Héctor Torres, tr. Kolin Jordan
The Animal Days by Keila Vall de la Ville, tr Robin Myers
What have you read recently?
If you’ve read a brilliant book in translation or you’d like to pass on a recommendation, I’d love to hear about it! For this project, I’m focussing on contemporary fiction and short stories, with a preference for female authors—but I’m always happy to venture further afield for a good recommendation.
You can get in touch by replying to this email or leaving a comment. I’ll be featuring your recommendations in upcoming newsletters, and I’ll keep a growing list here.
Bookmarked is written by Tabatha Leggett. Thank you to Katie Brown from Venezuelan Literature for her recommendations for this issue. If you know someone who would enjoy this newsletter, please forward it to them!