Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun and Sophie Hughes (translator)

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Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun and Sophie Hughes (translator)

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A quietly affecting novella, bringing the strangest of lives and their connections with each other from real life to the page with no little power.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 9781782272137

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If you thought your teenaged years were a struggle to work out the world, and yourself, consider that of Heidi Ertl. Or either of her sisters – this book serves as a sort of tribute to these three real-life women, and the lives that came out of their very disjointed youth, forced to be rarefied from the norm by their family uprooting. Father Hans was one of Leni Riefenstahl's key cameramen, and a Nazi military photographer, before taking the whole family into post-war exile in Bolivia. Their mother would have followed him to the ends of the earth – as in part would their daughters, the older two of which start the book by joining him on an expedition to discover a lost Incan city. Heidi finds young, instant love on the trek – but sees the dark side of such emotions, too. Older sister Monika, who might well be manic depressive, finds something else, while the baby of the family stays at home with a maudlin mother. So much here could be the hook on which to hang a full novel, but if anything it's the reaction of them all to this unusual formative journey that inspires this book.

And it has to be said that while it's not a full novel – nobody would struggle to read this in two hours – it's just as rich as you'd want. Part of that must come down to the different narrative voices used. We just get used to seeing Heidi's point of view of the expedition, when we jump to her kid sister and her Christmas back at home. The oldest girl joins in too, in an unusual second-person voice. A man crops up, with a weird paragraph formatting and with everything starting with a Yes,… as if he's responding to a questioner or rehearsing to himself the giving of a statement. Plain narration from outside the sisterhood and their larger family is thin on the ground.

But nothing reads thinly about this book. Rodrigo Hasbun has been receiving accolades at home in Bolivia and elsewhere, and this proves why. It's taut, it's a little strange – certainly, it took me to a much different place than to where I was expecting from the opening chapters – but it says a lot. There's a richness here you would appreciate and, to repeat, expect much more readily from a larger, denser read. If you have an understanding of Latin American politics and history, well – you've got the icing on the cake. I got an eye-opener to a family I'd never heard about, and one which certainly held my interest despite the lack of relevance the Bolivian audience would definitely find. But that's not to say this reads as a faction about these women's lives, however remarkable – the author's note points out this does not intend to be a faithful portrait, rather a novelisation of the events and characters. Those events and characters, and the way the book addresses the theme of the after-effects of displacement, are certainly worth sharing a little time with.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

There's fallout of a different kind, but one that's equally unusual, in The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. You might also appreciate Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Megan McDowell (translator). Sophie Highes also translated The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse by Ivan Repila.

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Buy Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun and Sophie Hughes (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun and Sophie Hughes (translator) at


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