When Adam Lacroft Met Death

when adam lacroft met death

“I’m what awaits at the end.” She added in a deep
voice, mocking a storyteller, “The one thing no man can avoid.” She giggled at my unchanging look of incomprehension. “I’m Death, silly.”

When Adam Lacroft Met Death (New Generation: 2013) isn’t the kind of Venezuelan literature I usually come across. For a start, it’s written in English. The author, Carlos Paolini, is currently resident in the States, studying marketing, but was born and raised in Caracas and smatterings of Venezuelan speech appear throughout the novel. I must admit I was anxious when I received the book, as 19-year-old Paolini, like his young protagonist Lacroft, seems extraordinarily self-assured – would he have the talent to back it up? I’m happy to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by his debut.

When Adam Lacroft Met Death is the first of a trilogy of fantasy novels for young adults, revolving around an underachieving high school student who comes face to face with Death after a car accident. Far from the stereotypical hooded figure, Death is a beautiful 20-something brunette, who calls herself Eve and seems to know all of Adam’s hidden desires. Eve offers Adam a moral dilemma: if can find and kill the man who killed him within three days he will  win back his own life. As t becomes increasingly clear that Eve cannot be trusted, will Adam be able to resist his temptation towards her and find a way to save himself? If a battle of wits with Death wasn’t complicated enough, Adam must also save his budding romance with the love of his life, Erica, but she has secrets of her own.

Having dropped out of law school after three months, Carlos spent a year just trying to absorb as much literature and film as he could. It shows, as references abound, from Dante’s Inferno to Oscar Wilde. As a Brit, I particularly appreciated Adam’s passion for our indie music too!

The initial irritation at Adam’s character gives way to a real warmth towards him thanks to his endearing nervousness trying to woo Erica, and then an admiration at how he matures as he tries to deal with death. It’s easy to get sucked in by him, just as Eve and Erica do. Not just the cliffhanger ending, but the fast-paced, engaging narrative throughout, left me impatient for Carlos to finish the next instalment.

Buy When Adam Lacroft Met Death from Amazon UK

Bajo las hojas

portada-bajo-hojas_grande

Qué son las novelas, una gran mentira, un conjunto de intrigas, un despliegue de manipulaciones…

What are novels, a big lie, a set of intrigues, an unfurling of manipulations…

The first forty or so pages of Israel Centeno’s 400-page novel Bajo las hojas (Alfaguara, 2010) are a relatively straightforward, if self-reflexive, account of a middle-aged novelist, struggling to make it in Venezuela, who seizes the opportunity to run off to London – a city he had briefly enjoyed as a young man, 26 years earlier – with his young and beautiful mistress in tow. Then it all gets complicated. Julio turns out to be a pawn in a grander scheme involving his mistress, his son, his old revolutionary colleagues turned police officers, an Italian dancer, and a death-worshipping cult of psychologists. The narration constantly switches between these disparate but linked characters and a mysterious omniscient power, so the reader must continually ask who is speaking, or more specifically, who is writing, as one of the key themes of Bajo las hojas is that whoever controls the narrative controls reality. 

Bajo las hojas, then, is a challenging novel. For a start, it demands constant concentration and perseverance to follow the story and the web of intrigues it spins. As the name of the cult – Los argonautas jungianos de los últimos dias – illustrates, the novel is replete with erudite references to Greek myths and legends, psychology and religion, as well as British history, Latin American poetry and more. At the same time, Centeno experiments with many popular genres – mystery, fantasy, Gothic, suspense, crime and eroticism – using them to hook the reader but also subverting generic expectations. Some of the characters, like mystic Trompetino, can be frustrating to read at times (although that seems to be the point), while others, particularly Julio’s son Alberto are understatedly engaging. Those challenges are the very reason for reading Bajo las hojas – while its characters ponder the nature and power of literature, the novel itself seems to be a protest against both the ‘dumbing-down’ of literature and the use of narrative as a political tool, fighting instead for writing – and reading – as artistic and intellectually stimulating endeavours.

Moreover, as an English reader, it’s interesting to picture Venezuelan characters in familiar settings. As Centeno confirmed when I recently met him, his London, the London of the 1980s, complete with orgies in graveyards and squatting in Brixton that appear in flashbacks throughout Bajo las hojas, is one completely alien to me today, even while the places, the climate and even the smarmy estate agents are strikingly familiar. This time in London as a young man was clearly fundamental for Centeno, so Bajo las hojas is fascinating reading for anyone wanting to better understand the work of this prolific Venezuelan author.

Reviews/features

Review by J. L. Maldonado from Librería Sónica

Trini by Omar Requena Medina

Born in Caracas in 1972, as a teenager Omar Requena Medina moved to Ocumare del Tuy, Estado Miranda, whose river and red-light district form the setting for this short story. Now resident in Chile, his first novel Los Días Iguales, was published by the Sistema Nacional de Imprentas del Estado Miranda in 2010. You can read an interview with Requena Medina here.

VERSIÓN EN CASTELLANO ABAJO.

TRINI

For Elena Méndez

Because every angel is terrible[1]. Not her. Half naked in the semi-darkness of the scruffy little room. The smell of recently blown-out candles coming from the small altar, covered with miniatures as fragile as her. Her allergic cough. Her curses at not being able to find the box of cigarettes. Fucking hell. The drowsiness that always overcame me when I stayed there. Lethargy, neglect. One thing was for sure, it was anxiety that brought me back to that corner of Aragüita.  A warped sense of refuge. With a little luck there would be a fight or a brief shoot-out courtesy of the local dealers. And to think that just a few kilometres away another world bustled, indifferent and complicit at the same time. If not, that’s what Carlitos said, and skinny Ribas, even Silvia. They were in love with the area and with Trini. She smoked elegantly, spiritedly, they would claim. She was sublime at the climax of that street play. That strange nature etc. “Trini, you made the guys in my group fall in love with you”, I reproached her. She laughed. Two amber points lit up in her eyes, which always seemed to look past me. At midday, her younger sister would arrive with chicken soup and arepas. She would also bring us the news of the latest settling of scores: who was dead, who were the killers; how many shots had been fired and where the bodies were found. Then, without either of them noticing, I would drink a shot of rum, neat, in honour of so much wasted, squandered life.

Every month she would prepare a spell for me with special herbs. We would go up to the river quite early. At the Cola de Caballo waterfall, I would tell her that I was Niño Mauricio, genius guardian of the harp’s true nature.  She would order me not to mess around with that stuff. Later, submerged in the cool water of the well, I would lick her breasts while she asked me for the nth time whether I would be able to take her out of the country with me. “If you leave Venezuela with me, you’ll have to forget about drug dealing and petty crime, my dear”, I replied jokingly. “I can read fortunes. I can see what’s hidden with my tobacco leaves. They’ll pay me for that. All over the world there are people who live in fear about their destiny. You said it yourself. Even you sometimes worry too much about what will come”.

But it wasn’t that easy, Trini. It never had been. It wasn’t a question of pounding the streets, far away, in that sad role of emigrant. Remember Miguelito: committed to that hospital in Madrid for nothing more than getting scared and hallucinating about a pool of blood that he found in entrance hall he cleaned each day. His burnt skin, his poet’s dark star, sunk him. Then he would recount the episode to me over and over again, high on weed. “Dirty bastards”, he would remember furiously. And he’d start on the story about how Africa would be reborn as the mother of the world. According to him, Europe and North America would be punished for their infinite selfishness; his Zulu, Fulfulde and Ashanti blood told him so.

When I brought Trini to him, he opened his eyes wide like a pervert and even dedicated a few verses to her. While he made her listen to Tom Jobim, he warned me: “Look, poet, that girl has the mark of Olofi. If I were you, I’d keep my eyes peeled, protect myself from the hunger of her body. From all of her hunger”. But what interest could I have in protecting myself from anything. What for. Instead, I treasured that closeness, which deep down was like always being on the edge of the unknown. There was something in Trini that joined her with other regions or orders. It was this something that spread drowsiness through my body. And so I would ask her, as she continued to look for her bloody cigarettes in the drawers: “Show me them, Trini… just for today”. She would take out one, two, three, five, seven jars with the tiny wrinkled bodies, minuscule  many with translucent skin. I remember one, bigger than the rest and, I swear, her tiny angel wings were starting to sprout.

**************************************

TRINI

A  Elena Méndez.

Porque todo ángel es terrible[1]. Ella no. A medio vestir en la penumbra del cuartucho desordenado. El olor a velas recién fenecidas llegando desde el pequeño altar, repleto de figuritas tan desleídas como ella. Su tos alérgica. Sus maldiciones por no poder encontrar la cajetilla de cigarros. Puta mierda. La modorra que me invadía siempre al quedarme allí. Sopor, dejadez. Lo cierto era que el agobio me hacía regresar a ese rincón de Aragüita. Una retorcida sensación de refugio. Con algo de suerte habría una pelea o una balacera breve, cortesía de los narcos del sector. Y pensar que a pocos kilómetros bullía otro mundo, indiferente y cómplice al mismo tiempo. Si no, que lo dijeran Carlitos, el flaco Ribas, incluso Silvia. Encantados con el barrio y con Trini. Fumaba con garbo, con duende, aseveraban. Sublime en el momento cumbre de la pieza de calle. Esa rara condición etérea. “Trini, me enamoraste a los muchachos del grupo”, le reprochaba.  Ella reía. Dos puntos de ámbar se le encendían en los ojos, que parecían mirar siempre más allá.  A mediodía, llegaba su hermana menor con caldo de gallina y arepas. Nos traía también la noticia de los últimos ajustes de cuentas: quiénes eran los muertos, quiénes los asesinos; cuántos tiros habían sido y dónde hallaron los cuerpos. Luego, sin que ninguna de las dos se diera cuenta, me daba un trago de ron seco en honor a tanta vida inútil, desperdiciada.

Cada mes me preparaba un ensalme con hierbas especiales. Subíamos al río bien temprano. En La Cola de Caballo, le decía que era yo Niño Mauricio, genio guardián de la naturaleza tuyera. Ella me ordenaba no jugar con eso. Después, sumergidos en el agua fría del pozo, lamía sus pechos mientras me preguntaba por enésima vez si sería capaz de llevarla conmigo fuera del país. “Si te vas de Venezuela conmigo, tendrías que olvidarte del jibareo y de otras vagabunderías, mijita”, le contestaba en broma. “Yo puedo leer la suerte. Con mis tabacos veo lo que está oculto. Me pagarán por eso. En todas partes del mundo, vive gente atormentada por lo que pueda ser su destino. Tú mismo lo has dicho. A ti mismo a veces te importa demasiado saber lo que vendrá”.

Pero no era tan fácil, Trini. No lo había sido nunca. No era el caso andar azotando calles, lejos, en ése triste papel de emigrante.  Acuérdate de Miguelito: internado en aquél hospital de Madrid, nada más por asustarse y alucinar con un charco de sangre que encontró en el portal que limpiaba a diario. Su piel quemada, su estrella negra de poeta, lo hundieron. Luego, me contaría el episodio una y otra vez, hinchado de ganja. “Sucios gilipollas”, recordaba furioso. Y empezaba con el cuento de que África renacería como la madre del mundo. Para él, Europa y Norteamérica serían castigados por su infinito egoísmo; se lo insinuaba su sangre Zulú, Fulfulde y Ashanti. Cuando le llevé a Trini, abrió tamaños ojos de pervertido, y hasta unos versos le dedicó. Mientras la hacía escuchar a Tom Jobim, me previno: “mire, poeta, esa niña tiene la marca de Olofi. Yo que usted, andaría ojo pelao cuidándome del hambre de su cuerpo. De su hambre toda”. Pero qué interés podía tener yo en cuidarme de nada. Para qué. Más bien atesoraba esa cercanía, que en el fondo era como estar siempre al borde de lo incierto. Había algo en Trini que la vinculaba a otras regiones u órdenes. Ese algo era lo que me untaba la modorra al cuerpo. Y se lo pedía entonces, ya que continuaba en busca de sus malditos cigarros en el ropero: “Muéstramelos, Trini… por hoy solamente.” Sacaba uno, dos, tres, cinco, siete frascos con los cuerpecitos arrugados, pequeñitos, varios de piel traslúcida. Recuerdo uno, de mayor tamaño que el resto y, lo puedo jurar, se le insinuaban ya las diminutas alas de ángel.


[1] Eleonora Filkenstein, “El Ángel”.