Victor Montoya — Violent Stories (1991)
Setting: Cold War era Bolivia, under military dictatorship.
What it’s about: A collection of short, brutal, vicious short stories centred around the crushing of miners by various Bolivian military regimes. The collection starts very meaningfully with stories of the Conquistadores invading Latin America. When the Incas hand over generations of ornate and precious objects, the Spanish melt them down:
“The oven swallowed gold and ornaments and vomited up ingots of gold and silver.”
The rest of the stories depict the brutal swallowing up of human lives. The torture scenes are not for the faint-hearted, but an important document bearing witness to the many forgotten victims of the 20th century. But they are short and sharp, like a vaccincation. Like Up Against the Wall, a page-long story that begins with a coup (“The Generals seized power with their customary violence”) and ends with a worker Pablo being summarily executed.
You can download it as an ebook for next to nothing here. Montoya himself was imprisoned but allowed to go into exile in 1977 after a campaign by human rights group Amnesty International.
You’ll like this if you liked: 1984, Darkness at Noon, The Open Veins of Latin America
The defining Bolivian book?: It’s defining of an entire century of repression. It could be any country under military rule. If only more novels about miners and indigenous people from Bolivia were translated into English (like Augusto Cespedes’s The Wells).
There is also an attempt at a national Bolivarian epic, Juan de la Rosa: Last memories of a soldier of independence. But its boring. I particularly dislike novels where the hero is destined to be a great leader despite living in poverty because their father was secretly a member of the elite. As if someone can’t challenge the status quo without the genes for leadership already in them — but the manifest destiny asks too much patience of the reader, and halfway through you are still waiting for something to happen.
Rating: * (An important and harrowing read, but intentionally limited and sparse)