Welcome to Travel Readings
Melbourne: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Books, Movies and Beyond…
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Washington, DC and New York
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Rome
Rio de Janeiro: Crimes of August (Agosto) by Rubem Fonseca
Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Liège (Belgium): Pedigree by Georges Simenon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Lisbon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Cambodia
Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
Paris: Flowers of Ruin and Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Naples
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Tanzania
Sri Lanka: Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Books, Movies and Beyond… : Venice
Dublin: The Dead by James Joyce
Books, Movies and Beyond: Iran
Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán
Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria
Djibouti: Passage of Tears (Passage des Larmes) by Abdourahman Waberi
Books, Movies and Beyond: Armenia
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
Bangkok: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Périgord, France: The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker
Books, Movies and Beyond: Brussels
Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Books, Movies and Beyond: Rio de Janeiro
Tajikistan: Hurramabad by Andrei Volos
New-York: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Israel and Palestine: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Books, Movies and Beyond: Bavaria and Southern Germany
Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
Books, Movies and Beyond: India
Blue Ridge Mountains: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Books, Movies and Beyond: Algeria
Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler
Books, Movies and Beyond: Africans in America
Zimbabwe: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
Books, Movies and Beyond: Colombia
Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Japan: Haruki Murakami and Amélie Nothomb
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Rope and The Denial of Saint Peter by Charles Baudelaire
Books, Movies and Beyond: Cairo
Vancouver: What is Remembered by Alice Munro
Ghent (Belgium): War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
Haiti: An Aroma of Coffee and Dining with the Dictator by Dany Laferrière and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Siena and Tuscany : Il Palio delle contrade morte by Fruttero & Lucentini and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
China : Wild Swans. Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán

Since I started this blog, before each departure I am looking for books ideas that could accompany me for the trip. In the process, I came across many novels which across the different experiences and styles present a similar pattern: the narrator is an immigrant, often in the US or in the UK, the story is told partly in the country of origin and partly in the country of destination and the father’s figure plays a central role. Maybe because I am myself an expatriate, I liked those books. I will showcase some of these novels in my next posts.

I am starting with “Materia del Deseo” by Edmundo Paz Soldán, translated in English as “The Matter of Desire”) The story takes place in part in a university in up-state New York that looks very much like Cornell where Paz Soldán is teaching and in part in Rio Fugitivo a fictive city in Bolivia. A city far from the usual clichés about this landlocked Andean country:  no lamas or alpacas, far from Lake Titicaca or the Uyuni Salar.

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Rio Fugitivo looks similar to Santa Cruz de la Sierra where I went recently. Even if it keeps some traces of its colonial past around the central square, Santa Cruz is a modern city, in full economic boom, in the midst of a plain dominated by large farms. Some streets of the « Equipetrol » neighborhood see themselves as trendier as the streets of Miami.

Santa Cruz

Pedro, a young professor in political sciences specialized in Latin America takes a sabbatical from his north-American university. The timing is opportune as it allows him fleeing from a complicated and professionally dangerous affair with Ashley, one of his American student. More officially, he also travels back to Rio Fugitivo to do research on his father, Pedro Reissig, a heroic figure from the leftist revolutionary struggle in Bolivia in the 60s, killed with his group during a trap organized by the security services.

The region around Santa Cruz is rich in memories from short-lived revolutionary experiences. The most famous figure is probably Che Guevara whose grave is in Vallegrande. After having supported Fidel Castro in Cuba, and after an unsuccessful attempt in the Congo, the Argentinian revolutionary ended his career in Bolivia: he failed to recruit any campesino for his armed struggle and was chased and then killed by the Bolivian army. An ending without glory which will however give birth to a myth that inspiring thousands of idealists.

 

A painting dedicated to Ernesto "Che" Guevara on the Vallegrande hospital in Bolivia.

A painting dedicated to Ernesto “Che” Guevara on the Vallegrande hospital in Bolivia.

I found the experience of the Jesuits missions in the Chiquitos region more moving. Founded at the end of the 17th century in order to assimilate the indigenous populations to the Spanish colonial system, they nevertheless offered to these populations a shelter against slavery and exploitation. Even though the missions were probably not the paradise suggested for example by a movie like « The Mission », they were the center of a rich economy and culture. The Chiquitanos musical tradition is still alive today.  I could attend a short performance and also see the old instruments in the museum of the San Javier mission, a wonderful example of this hybrid architecture in a small but charming cattle town.  It is in this region of Bolivia that the best maintained and renovated missions can be found, testimony of a somewhat utopian experience which was brutally interrupted in 1767 when the Spanish Crown expelled the Jesuits from Latin America.

San Javier mission

But let’s get back to Pedro, our Bolivian academic looking for his dad and trying without success to forget his lover in the US.  His father, Pedro Reissig, he never knew him except as a hero, the figurehead of the Bolivian left whose killing, like the Che, formed the cornerstone of his legend. But a doubt remains: among the group of revolutionaries, a traitor gave them away to the secret services. Who was this traitor? Is the answer in Berkeley, the novel written by Reissig? Or in the crosswords puzzles composed every week by his uncle David, the hero’s brother who miraculously survived the killing? How to understand the love triangle (or rectangle) in which the two brothers where entangled with their respective wives? Should he believe the so-called revelations by a drug lord, one of his dad’s former classmate, who is waiting to be extradited to the US?

After a short re-encounter with Carolina, a Bolivian ex-girlfriend, Pedro returns to the States. Ashley has left the campus without leaving an address, but he comes back with a more precise image of who his father really was.

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