The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto and Frank Wynne (translator)
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|The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto and Frank Wynne (translator)|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Not a cosy read, but a compelling one as a Peruvian lawyer discovers what his father did in the name of patriotism and the effects that still ripple through lives decades later.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: June 2012|
|Publisher: William Heinemann|
Adrian Ormache, middle class Peruvian lawyer, has a beautiful wife, two daughters of the sort to make any parent proud and a comfortable lifestyle. His parents divorced when he was small so, as he lived with his mother, he has fragmented memories of a gruff, distant dad. Despite his father's aloof, dictatorial manner, Adrian has always comforted himself with the fact he played a useful role as a land-bound naval officer, fighting Senderista terrorists for the good of Peru. After the death of his mother everything changes. Adrian finds documents that lead him away from his beliefs, towards a truth that will shatter more than his father's image.
Alonso Cueto is an award winning Peruvian playwright and journalist as well as novelist, The Blue Hour winning the prestigious Herralde prize. This is a significant accolade considering the political delicacy of the subject, for the fictional Comandante Ormache took part in a very real and terrible time in Peruvian history.
The Senderistas (also known as 'The Shining Path' or Sendero Luminoso) were communists who believed in global revolution rather than the ballot box. Their chosen method to accelerate the revolution seemed indiscriminate and resulted in the death of anyone they deemed in the way, be they peasants, clergy or even their own party officials. As demonstrated in the novel, the locals lived in fear, not even leaving their homes after dark lest they become one of the 'disappeared'. In the eyes of many these guerrillas were unethical and violent, but the government forces didn't seem any better. It's significant that Cueto chose Ayacucho as one of his settings as this was an area declared an emergency zone by the Peruvian government, removing all civil rights for its inhabitants, to the advantage of the less scrupulous in the military.
The title is actually skilfully chosen as The Blue Hour comes from the French phrase for dawn's twilight, when there is no absolute dark or absolute light or, in the context of the book, a smudging of absolute wrong and right. Also it's the time of day when the brain first considers the possibility of waking up and doing something after a long period of being unaware. For this was the world of which the cocooned Adrian Ormache knew nothing at the beginning of his journey but his enlightenment grows.
As each clue takes him closer to his father's true nature, the reader joins him in the shock accompanying each twist and convolution. The search starts as a paper chase from curiosity and then, once the facts start creeping from upturned stones, Adrian wants to put them back and return to how he was but can't. In a way this sentiment is transferred to us as we read; we can't look away either but are compelled to accompany Adrian, whatever comes next. As horrific the discoveries are for Adrian, this was part of his father. He feels a need to know along with an inherited responsibility.
Adrian's wife Claudia watches her husband slowly disintegrate as they both realise the connotations of the Comandante's legacy. She is perhaps the voice of middle class Peru at that time: life is good; Adrian's father had the people's interests at heart so why rock the boat? The difference is that she hasn't seen what he has, and that difference becomes a dividing gulf.
Having said that, Claudia's viewpoint is understandable and was probably replicated by her real-life contemporaries, in addition to, perhaps, the world looking on. It's a human reaction and this is the lynch pin of the novel: Cueto ensures that all his characters remain human. I don't want to pre-empt the disclosures that propel the novel, but it's interesting that even those admitting to patently inhuman actions preface their confessions with 'sometimes we...'. They didn't want it to be seen as a routine part of them, just an isolated event that happened in that moment, that 'sometimes'.
As a world, it may be difficult to eradicate such blights on innocence as those that occurred (and occur) in places like Ayacucho but the first step is realisation and attempting to understand. The Blue Hour goes some way towards assisting that ambition, meanwhile it serves as a memorial to those who suffered pain or loss, and those whose family trees feel tainted by the instigators.
I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.
If you've enjoyed this (though 'enjoyed' may not be the most sensitive verb under the circumstances), why not try The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa. You might also appreciate Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo and Edith Grossman.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto and Frank Wynne (translator) at Amazon.com.
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