"Hot Sur" (Hot South), the just-published novel by Colombian author Laura Restrepo, carries a disturbing dedication: "A Javier, que pasa los días de su vida en una cárcel de Estados Unidos" -- To Javier, who spends the days of his life in a U.S. jail.
That's a pretty blunt and compelling way of opening a book. But if you're familiar with Restrepo's previous novels, several of which have been published in English -- "Leopard in the Sun," "The Dark Bride," "Delirium" -- you know that she specializes in hooking readers from the first page with dramatic set-ups that could've been lifted from a crime thriller or a telenovela. Then her taut, nuanced, ironic narratives quickly reel you in to confront the starkest and darkest of current realities: warfare, drug violence, desperate urban poverty, the embattled and fragmented modern Self.
With "Hot Sur," Restrepo returns to the subject of immigration, which she addressed in "The Dark Bride" and "The Wandering Multitude." This time, according to the Madrid newspaper El País, Restrepo "brings us to a universe of Latin American immigrants heading toward the United States in search of better opportunities and nearly without weighing the consequences."
El País praises "Hot Sur" as "a terrifying and sad mosaic of the price of the dreams of the contemporary world" that is "very critical of the system that raises walls to the detriment of millions of immigrants, but at the same is a celebration of life with the rhythm of a thriller."
Drawing on her extensive journalistic background, Restrepo crafts fiction that has the carefully researched verisimilitude and detail of fact. Her fellow Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a former reporter himself, has been quoted as saying that her work "breathes life into a singular amalgam of journalistic investigation and literary creation." Her other admirers include Harold Bloom, who has compared her New World sensibility to that of Walt Whitman, and the late Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago.
Vintage has published English-language versions of several of Restrepo's previous works, and Nan A. Talese / Doubleday handled the English printing of "Delirium" in 2007, excellently translated by Natasha Wimmer. Here's hoping that Restrepo's latest "singular amalgam" makes it into the New World's other most-widespread language soon.
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