Posted by: koolwine | April 10, 2011

Bolivia: Andean Express

A high school graduate encounters love and murder on a train ride over the Andes.

Country Focus: Bolivia

Andean Express
By Juan de Recacoechea
Translated by Adrian Althoff
Originally published as Altiplano Express by Alfaguara in 2000.
My edition: Akashic Books, 2009.  172 pgs.

Acclaim: de Recacoechea won Bolivia’s National Book Prize

On the train from La Paz, Bolivia to Arica, Chile in 1952, Ricardo Beintogoitia hob nobs with a motley crew of train passengers who all have one thing in common – they have been screwed over by Nazario Alderete, a wealthy mine owner on his honeymoon with Gulietta, a woman less than half his age.  Hoping for a two-night stand, Ricardo pursues the unhappily married girl with the persistence and naivete of the 18-year-old that he is.  Gulietta turns out to more cutthroat than cute and Ricardo winds up in over his head.  Meanwhile, the other passengers – including a professional poker player, a dapper congressman, the owner of a cabaret, a famous madam, a Russian Jewish banker and a beefy Irish railroad inspector – set up a poker game that will enable them to get their revenge on Alderete.

Poker games, horny teens, revenge, murder and de Recacoechea’s hardboiled writing style all contribute to the book’s inherent masculinity.  Suspenseful, short and fast-paced, Andean Express could easily be turned into a movie script; the rapid-fire dialogue and well-drawn, eccentric characters would be perfect fodder for the Coen brothers.  That the author populated his story with as many immigrants as natives is a reminder that every nation is a conglomeration of people from elsewhere.

Andean Express is understandably short on Bolivian culture and history.  However, de Racacoechea does includes frequent references to both the class and political divisions of the time, including the difficulty of being accepted into the upper echelons of society (and keeping your place there) and the controversial ascension of the leftist Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario.


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