Affections is somewhere between novel and novella. It tells the story of three sisters, daughters of one of Leni Riefenstahl’s cameramen, who emigrated to Bolivia after the war. He takes his daughters to search for Patiti, the lost city of the Incas, which he believes is located in the Bolivian Amazon. They results of the quest are inconclusive, but of course, as with all quests, it masks another, more torturous quest, which is the one that each of the girls will go on: the quest to harmonise their antithetical roots: German and Bolivian, Latin American and European. One will move back to Munich, the other will teach German in La Paz and the third, Monica, will become a Marxist guerrilla, a lover to one of the survivors of Che’s doomed mission to ferment revolution in Bolivia.
This is more than enough material for a chunky novel, which Affections notably is not. It strings the sister’s stories together using various narrators (two of the sisters, Monica’s former lover, the guerrilla, etc). These monologues are brief, and almost feel like notes towards a novel as much as a novel itself. As such, as a book, Affections ends up, perhaps, flattering to deceive. The material is so rich, but the execution has all the weight of a butterfly’s wings. There is a lovely moment, in the jungle, when someone observes that butterflies, that thing of beauty, love dirt. This is typical of the writing, full of lovely shards, which never quite feel like they combine to give the premise the cathedral it deserves. It is fascinating to gain some glimpses into Bolivia’s post-war history, but these glimpses only leave the reader wanting more (not such a bad thing). Hopefully more of Hasbún’s more meatier work will soon be translated.