The last days of el Comandante by Alberto Barrera Tyszka





















The last day of el Comandante by Alberto Barrera Tsyzka

Venezuelan fiction

Original title –  Patria o muerte

Translators – Rosalind Harvey and Jessie Mendez Sayer

Source – review copy

Now back to Spanish lit month and here I have a second book from Alberto Barrera Tyszka. I reviewed the Sickness when it was on the IFFP list. That was eight years ago so this last book that follows the time running up to the death of Hugo Chavez from a main character and those around him, Tyszka wrote Chavez’s  biography he is influenced by writers such as Dostoyevski, Dumas, Stevenson, and Chekov as well as Salvador Garmendia and Jose Ignacio Cabrujus two of the greatest Venezuelan writers of recent years.

“I wouldn’t be surorised if it was all lies,” Beatriz muttered “Something the cubans made up to distract us.”

Sanabria wathced in silence.

Chavez looked thin and pale. He was on his feet behind the podium, and , oddly he was reading out a written text instead of improvising in front of the camera, It was unheard of for this man, so fond of speaking for hours in fromt of any audience, to restrict himself to a few word, suddenly held hostage by a small piece of paper.

I loved that last line of being held hosatge by a piece of paper this man that could talk for hours starting to look unwell !

The main character in the book is a retired Oncologist Miguela Sanabria he is sort of a middling figure neither anti or pro Chavez but given his previous profession, his opinion is sort by both sides. His wife is very anti-Chavez in her views. He is contacted by his brother a pro-Chavez then his Nephew Vladimir who is high up in the regime who has hold of a mobile that has the truth about how bad the president is a recording whilst Chavez had surgery. Outside all this Miguel is asked by a mysterious Cuban to become chairman of the condominium they live in. Their neighbor Fredy is writing about Chavez but is offered a fresh angle on this book. When he is given a chance to see some medical reports. that means he will have to leave alone without his family for the US. THen There is Young Maria being homeschooled by her mother  Cecilla who is stuck in the apartment as she is scared of the outside world. So Maria turns to Chat rooms after Cecilla has the internet installed to keep the little girl in touch with the outside world. She talks to Fedy son Rodrigo on these chat rooms they offer a different view on the world around . them. This is a snapshot of Middle-class lives in Venezuela as the life of Chavez hung in the Balance.

“The problem isn’t your neighbours. The problem is you” This was the brother’s response to his various sorrows. Miguel had gone to visit him and told him about everything that was going on in  his building. From Antonio’s point of view, letting the boy into his house had been his first mistake.

“What was I supposed to do? The husband’s awat, their family lives in Maturin, and she was standing ther, crying, totally overwheklmed.”

As Miguel lets a neighbour in his house afterthe husnband has left his brother thinks he is making a mistake ?

Tyszka has a sideline like a lot of Latin American writers have as a soap writer and this is like that a slice of everyday life capturing the effects of the end of Chavez when he was dying of characters using a group of characters connected by family or location. Middle class but all struggling Miguel walking a fine line between his family members but at a point knowing things are worse than they are being told. Fredy a journalist given a chance and his son chatting with a fellow youngster in the building a new face of Venezuela in the chat rooms. A powerful work on everyday lives of those caught up in the last days showing how entwined we all are.  As the death of the great leader looms on the horizon. Like a soap opera, it mixes News and Melodrama and some outrages bits. Hae you read Tyszka?


The sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

Source – Library

Translator –  Margaret Jull Costa

Alberto is a Venezuelan born writer from Caracas ,he is well-known in his homeland for his biography of the enigmatic leader of his country Hugo Chavez ,he also writer piece for El Pais and Letrea libres from time to time.He has also wrote piece for television in his own country . This is his first novel in English won the Herralde prize for new works in spanish ,Bolano won this prize as well .

The sickness is a book that is about what it says on the cover sickness ,whether its real or imagine ,also death family and what it all means ,the book hinges on dr Andres Miranda ,His father is terminally ill ,they are on a trip to try to sort out ,what is going to happen to his father but also to bring some closeness to them ,also on another strand is on of the patients of Dr Miranda a man who is convinced he is ill and is constantly e mailing the doctor with his various aliments such as being breathless after exerting himself ,over course of the book his enquiries turn to stalking .meanwhile the father and son are on a boat going to the childhood holiday haunt of his father .

Dear Dr Miranda ,

I have a confession to make :I m following you .I’d love to see you face now ,to see your reaction .What do you think ? does it bother you ? Does it worry you ? does it frighten you perhaps ? or maybe you don’t even care ,perhaps you find it amusing .I no longer know what to think .

One of Duran’s e-mails ,as he starts to follow the dr Miranda .

The sickness is a riveting read ,about  modern anxieties ,and life ,he tackles how we cope with impeding death  ,also how caught up we can caught up in worries about  our health ,this shows how worked up you can after small problems  we tend to be surrounded by information in the modern age and this can drag us down this path of feel unwell due to stress .The father son relationship is well drawn as the son a tough doctor ,race to spend time with his dying father and rediscovering in some ways his humanity .I think this would be a great book group book in brings a lot to the table to discuss life ,death and illness could keep you going all night I would think .The translation from Jull costa is as ever highly readable .The book was shortlist for the IFF prize yesterday .


March 2023


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