Tuesday, 10 January 2017

juventud [vanessa blakeslee]

I was, perhaps, mislead by the title into thinking that this was a novel by a Colombian author. As it happens, it appears the author, Vanessa Blakeslee, is North American. Whilst the majority of her novel is set is Cali, and deals with the complexities of growing up there (narcos, guerrillas, assassinations), the novel’s aesthetic has a straightforward anglo-saxon vibe. In many ways, this is chick lit with politics thrown in. Which is not to dismiss it. There’s no reason why Colombia’s history shouldn’t be told through the eyes of a young woman struggling to come to terms with its paradoxes and deceits. The book feels well researched and gives a vivid portrayal of Cali at the turn of the last century. Nevertheless, there are moments when it feels as though the heroine’s story might have benefitted from being a little less linear and a little less spelt out. Particularly in the book’s second part, where Mercedes life changes radically and the novel’s scope expands to incorporate Israel, Florida, Washington DC and Mexico. At which point the supposed object of Mercedes’ concern, the landless peasants who have suffered as a result of the drugs war, begin to feel more like wallpaper for her story, and the whole book begins to veer dangerously towards cultural tourism. 

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