by Evelio Rosero
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
Ismail, the profesor, is a retired teacher in a small Colombian town where he passes the days pretending to pick oranges while spying on his neighbor Geraldina as she lies naked in the shade of a ceiba tree on a red floral quilt. The garden burns with sunlight; the macaws laugh sweetly. Otilia, Ismail’s wife, is ashamed of his peeping and suggests that he pay a visit to Father Albornoz. Instead, Ismail wanders the town visiting old friends, plagued by a tangle of secret memories: Where have I existed these years? I answer myself: up on the wall, peering over. When the armies slowly arrive, the profesor’s reveries are gradually taken over by a living hell. His wife disappears and he must find her. We learn that not only gentle, grassy hillsides surround San José but landmines and coca fields. The reader is soon engulfed by the violence of Rosero’s narrative that is touched not only with a deep sadness, but an extraordinary tenderness.