Friday, November 25, 2016

Bolivia: Affections, by Rodrigo Hasbun

This slim novel centers on Hans Ertl, a German mountaineer, adventurer and film maker, and his three daughters Monika, Heidi and Trixi. Hans Ertl was forced to leave Germany after the World War II, seen as a Nazi due to his work as cameraman on Leni Reifenstahl's propaganda documentary of the 1936 Olympics, and his later work as a war photographer. In Bolivia, Hans sets out to find the legendary Inca city of Paititi, deep in the Amazon jungle. Two of his daughters accompany him on this expedition. Later, the three girls take very different paths, Monika as a guerilla revolutionary, Heidi marrying and returning to Germany to raise four children, and Trixi living a somewhat aimless life in La Paz.

Hasbun, who was born in Bolivia in 1981, states at the beginning "although inspired by historical figures, this novel is a work of fiction. As such it is not, nor does it attempt to be, a faithful portrait of any member of the Ertl family or the other characters who appear in its pages". I found this an interesting approach, given the recent time frame of the events - it appears from a google search that Trixi at least may still be alive. It's one thing to fictionalize the lives of 17th century English kings and queens, and quite another for twentieth century characters - after all, in the former case, we know when the author describes what someone is thinking that there is in fact no way they could know that. With more recent events, and possible live informants, the boundaries seem somewhat more blurred.

Whatever the truth of the story, I found it intriguing and compelling, and well told. I was interested to see that the translator was Sophie Hughes, who is also the translator of Umami, the book from Mexico that I had just finished reading before this one. She must be very busy!

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