Chulapos Mambo

YA ESTA AQUÍ. LLEGO LA BOMBA. ESPERE LA EXPLOSIÓN QUE CAMBIARÁ PARA SIEMPRE EL CURSO DE LA LITERATURA UNIVERSAL.

IT’S HERE. THE BOMB HAS DROPPED. WAIT FOR THE EXPLOSION THAT WILL FOREVER CHANGE THE COURSE OF LITERARY HISTORY ACROSS THE WORLD.

Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez’s Chulapos Mambo (Madrid: Casa de Cartón, 2011) is an absurd, ironic and darkly hilarious tale of three unconventional characters tied together by one outrageous plan. Alejandro wants to get away from his wife to be with his lover, and Simao desperately needs money. The solution to their problems is Henry. Henry has come to Madrid from Venezuela as a representative of the Bolivarian Republic, hailed as the greatest writer who ever lived – although he has no talent at all and has only written one book of short stories plagiarised from the Boom authors. While Henry puzzles over how the literary world has yet to recognise his genius and writes his MASTERPIECE, Alejandro and Simao’s scheming gets them all caught up in violence, prostitution, stalking, and kidnapping.

Méndez Guédez’s talent for creating characters who are utterly absurd and yet somehow still believable makes Chulapos Mambo incredibly funny. However, this absurdity also serves to criticize current Venezuelan politics without ever openly saying anything against it. The contradictions of ’21st century socialism’ are certainly evident throughout the novel:

“La costosa camisa que llevaba en la mañana; la tarjeta dorada que descubrí en su cartera […] Henry seguro estaba vinculado al gobierno de mi país” / “The expensive shirt that he was wearing in the morning; the gold card that I found in his wallet […] Henry was surely linked to my country’s government”.

As a literature geek, what I find most interesting about the novel though is its self-reflexivity: it’s about writing, what makes someone a writer, what makes someone a successful writer. Is it enough that Henry believes himself to be writer? It’s fun to play detective, working out which works Henry’s writing plagiarises, and spot the different authors who pop up around Madrid. At the same time, Chulapos Mambo makes serious points – though clothed in humour as always – about how the current Venezuelan government uses literature.

“Ahora en el país se lee mucho y se nos valora a los autores nacionales, a los que interpretamos de verdad el poder popular y el sentir profundo de las verdaderas raíces…” / “Nowadays in our country people read a lot and value us national authors, we who interpret the truth of the popular power and the deep meaning of the real roots…”

Whether you’re particularly interested in literature and its importance in today’s Venezuela, or you just want a good laugh, you must read Chulapos Mambo.

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