Somewhere Beyond the Barricade

12 Jan

Another lifetime ago, I was asked to review a book, and I promised I would get to it… right after the book on my Kindle. Well, three months later I did and… is it bad? Is it good? The answer was unsatisfying.

The name of the book is Alejandro’s Lie by Bob Van Laerhoven. Now once I got past my knee-jerk resentment of the Dutch, I barreled into the text. Start with the good stuff: the book is incredibly well-written. The characters are detailed and multi-faceted. The setting is… interesting. But every time I read a chapter, I had a hard time starting the next.

Someone once said that being an author is like being a substitute teacher; you have the readers a reason to pay attention. So here are some of the things that threw me off while reading:

1. If it’s Chile, just call it Chile.

Alejandro’s Lie is set in Chile during the end of the General Pinochet dictatorship. Except it’s not Pinochet, it’s Pelaron. It’s not set in Santiago, it’s Valtiago. It’s not Chile, it’s Terreno. At first I thought, “okay, I can accept that it’s a made up South American country.” But it’s not, it’s in the Andes. Everything about this screams “CHILE!” and it’s not subtle about it. You mention America, Belgium, Cuba… why not Chile?

I only have a tertiary knowledge of Chile and its history (mostly from Death and the Maiden), but come on! Why not completely make up a whole country like Parador, where you can invent everything you want how you want it without offending anybody… but he doesn’t. Why just write about Chile and then file the serial numbers off?!

2. Your protagonist should actually do something.

The eponymous Alejandro, after ten years being tortured in retail hell Chilean Terranan prison for being the lead guitarist of a protest band, finally gets out and has nothing. He runs into a protest that goes violent and saves a rich woman from getting arrested. Okay, good start.

Then Alejandro is whiny for the next hundred pages. He has to be coaxed into everything by Beatriz (the love interest), including sex, to get back down with the cause. Everything that moves the plot is done by either Beatriz or Rene (the Belgian priest). What the hell is Alejandro’s lie? That he’s not really down with the cause? Yeah, we get it.

3. Everybody Hurts

One of my favorite radio hosts talks about he loves War and Peace, so I tried reading it again. I got to Page 250 and stopped reading because I just couldn’t care about any of the characters. They were aristocrats trapped in a cage of their own making. Interestingly enough, he also talked about how he hates Dune, which told me that his tastes and mine and completely different (I’ve read Dune six times–love it).

Alejandro is miserable about being tortured. Fine. Beatriz is miserable because of the oppressive father and oppressive ex-husband in her life. Okay. Rene is miserable because he feels like his life’s work is meaningless and he should have just banged his brother’s girlfriend and been married in Belgium. None of the characters actually want to do anything apart from a vague idea to free Terrano from Pelaron, but they certainly aren’t on fire about it. They’re too far up their own ass to actually fight.

Sure, this is more realistic, but it’s depressing as hell.

So… can I recommend this book? It is good, but it’s not for me. I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction for just this reason. I want a story, not detailed character studies, and their interactions. That doesn’t interest me; but if you like War and Peace (or Russian literature in general), go for it. But I got about 2/3rds through the book in three months and it was torture getting that far.

Maybe I’m not the best audience to review your book. *shrug*

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