Saturday, June 28, 2014
Chile, the slender nation that lies along the Pacific margins of South America, has faced more than its share of disasters, natural and otherwise. This neat road novel by the Mexican-born writer Andrés Pascoe Rippey imagines an apocalyptic future in which a nuclear war between the great powers has wiped out modern communications and the electric grid worldwide, even in countries — like Chile — that are far from the center of the conflict. As the authorities lose control, rioting and looting break out, and are followed in turn by the rise of brutal paramilitary units, and, more disturbingly, by armies of crazed, cannibalistic merodeadores (marauders) in whom we — although not the characters, at least initially — recognize the characteristic traits of the zombie.
The novel's central character, Alberto, is a left-wing Mexican journalist living in Santiago. As violence breaks out, he at first withdraws to the security of his apartment, but when the situation in the capital becomes increasingly grim he flees south in a commandeered Range Rover, acquiring two companions along the way. One, Max, is a teenager from a wealthy and conservative Catholic family; the other, Valentina, is an Argentinian woman who is both a formidable hand-to-hand fighter and a sexual powerhouse. Hoping to find shelter in an isolated region, they find that little they encounter along the way — a pious farm family, a neohippie commune — is what it seems; moreover, the paramilitaries and merodeadores are also swiftly making their way south. Much of the latter part of the novel takes place among the idyllic scenery of Chile's Alerce Andino National Park, though the events that transpire there — including, of all things, a cavalry charge, are anything but tranquil.
The novel's political and social overtones are obvious and at time explicit, and memories of the violent dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet are never far from the surface, but the novel also draws on the conventions of horror cinema, as well as, I suspect, books like John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids and the disaster novels of J. G. Ballard. It manages to be well-written and astute in its observation of society and character while supplying a ripping, well-paced narrative.
Todo es rojo is, thus far, available only in Spanish. It has been published, in a handsome edition, by a tiny Chilean press, Imbunche Ediciones, and appears to have limited distribution outside that country. (It is, however, available as a PDF download from Lulu.) Hopefully it will eventually gain wider exposure and translation into other languages.