Book review: Feast Of The Innocents

SET in 1968, this story follows Doctor Justo Pastor Proceso López, a respected gynaecologist in the Colombian city of Pasto, who harbours a secret ambition to tell the world that the myth of Simon Bolivar, the venerated ‘Liberator of Latin America’, is really a sham.

Evelio Rosero

Maclehose Press, €13.50; e-book, €11.80

Caught in a loveless marriage, Lopez wants to make his life-affirming statement, despite the earnest protestations of his closest friends. 

Calling into question the exalted status of a venerated leader is a dangerous dream, especially in the highly charged atmosphere of 1960s Colombia.

“Sanudo pointed out conclusively that Bolívar was made into a myth, such that the common conception of him bears no relation to reality. But so what, the people need their hero. What reason is there to topple Bolívar now?”

Similar to the main character in Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, this is one doctor to whom no curative prescription for his emotional ills is available.

Concocting a daring plan to lay bare before an unsuspecting public the massacres and betrayals perpetrated by Bolivar, Lopez commissions a garish float in the Black and White Carnival to deliver his shattering statement on the streets where thousands indulge in the alcoholic pleasures on the national feast day.

While the good doctor and his wife have found romantic comfort in the ready arms of other people as their marriage dwindles, his plan to destroy the Bolivar myth injects the couple’s union with a renewed passion. 

The peculiar relationship between the pair underpins the story, and the unusual expression of their love in terms of sexual gratification may raise an eye with some readers.

This is a South American man’s world, and while the women are no wilting wallflowers in terms of getting what they want, it does paint the macho posturings in a very unflattering light.

A bittersweet novel circling the melancholy miseries of middle age, it has a pace and humour that skilfully engages — especially on some arcane aspects of Colombian history.

Rosero is a novelist and playwright whose work has been recognised by Colombia’s National Literature Award and translated into more than a dozen languages. He is the author of 16 novels, including The Armies, which won the 2006 Tusquets International Novel Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2009.

Again creating the world of rural Colombian life in the village of San Jose, The Armies depicts a community wanting only peaceful coexistence, but always watchful of the next attack from the army, the paramilitaries or the drug lords.

Showing the fatal collision of rural values against the power plays of modern politics, it was widely hailed as an allegory on the universal theme of good versus evil.

His 1984 novel, Mateo Solo, which began his First Time trilogy, concerned a child confined to his home, and whose knowledge of the world is gleaned only by what he sees through the windows.


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