Tuesday, 28 February 2017

damnificados [jj amaworo wilson]

Damnificados is a book inspired by a building. I don’t imagine there are too many. The Yacoubian Building is another that comes to mind. Bleak House, perhaps. There will be others. The building in question is called the Torre de David, and is situated in Caracas, Venezuela. Both Mike Davis and Justin McGuirk discuss it in a non-fiction context. This is a tower block in the middle of Caracas which was taken over by squatters. It has acquired a mythical status and Amaworo Wilson taps into this. His novel is a Homeric fable. It tells the story of a saintly cripple, Nacho, who leads the poorest of the poor (los damnificados) as they take over the tower and turn it into a shelter for over a thousand families, with free electricity and water, schools and spaces for small businesses to spring up. The narrative is constructed around various “trash wars” along with the battles of the tower’s former owners (the Torres family) to reclaim the property. It’s an entertaining read, albeit one that seems to skirt any notion of historical accuracy. Instead Amaworo Wilson constructs an alternative Caracas which is part Arabic, part African, part Latino. It’s a genuine tower of babel, which is held together by Nacho’s charismatic powers of leadership. One imagines that Amaworo Wilson did his research into actual events in the history of the Torre de David. There are times when this reader might have hoped for an account which revealed more of the socio-political context of the city of Caracas, as captured in the lyrics of the rapper Cansabero for example. Nevertheless, Damnificados is a spritely, enjoyable read and offers hints as to what life in the squatter’s tower block might have been like. 

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