From the book
jacket: The town of Río Fugitivo in
Bolivia is on the verge of a social
revolutionnot a revolution of strikes
and street riots but a war waged
electronically, where computer viruses
are the weapons and hackers the
revolutionaries. In this war of
information, the lives of a variety of
characters become entangled: Kandinsky,
the mythic leader of a group of hackers
fighting the government and
transnational companies; Albert, the
founder of Black Chamber, a state
security firm charged with deciphering
the secret codes used in the information
war; and Miguel Sáenz, Black Chamber's
most famous codebreaker, who begins to
suspect that his work is not as innocent
as he once supposed. All converge to
create an edgy, fast-paced story about
personal responsibility and complicity
in a world defined by the
ever-increasing gulfs between the global
and the local, government and society,
the virtual and the real.
Comment: Edmundo Paz Soldan is the author of six novels and two short story collections (he is also a prolific blogger in Spanish). He has won the National Book Award in Bolivia, the prestigious Juan Rulfo Award, and was a finalist for the Romulo Gallegos Award. He is currently an assistant professor at Cornell University and is one of the leading lights of the McOndo movement - a growing group of South American writers who favor cultural realism over magical realism. As Salon wrote in a 2004 article, "the fantastic, picturesque, mango-happy lifestyle -- flying grandmothers, 100-year rainfalls, butterfly storms -- that saturated the Latin American literary landscape in the 1970s has made its permanent exit. The characters in more recent Latin American novels are middle-class city dwellers with TV sets and Internet connections. If people fly, it is because they're on airplanes or drugs."
Apparently the term McOnda derives from McDonalds, Apple Macs and condos. The movement is led by a new generation of South American writers, particularly from Chile, who take issue with how South American literature has been pigeon holed by magical realism for 30 years (pretty much since Gabriel García Márquez published One Hundred Years of Solitude in Argentina in 1967, with an English translation three years later).
Turing's Delirium is a dark, political thriller set in the near future, in the fictitious city of Rio Fugitivo, in Soldan's home country of Bolivia. Incidentally, Rio Fugitivo was also the setting of his previous novel, The Matter of Desire. Turing's Delirium is an ultra-contemporary novel that, as we're bandying about literary terms, would probably be categorized by those who decide such things as cyberpunk (i.e. fast-paced science fiction involving futuristic computer-based societies); but, please don't let that description put you off - this is an excellent, fast-paced story, and an interesting contemplation on the nature of personal responsibility. In addition, through the character of Albert, the mysterious first director of the Black Chamber, we learn much about the history of cryptanalysis - and a fascinating history it is too.
The first few chapters are a little slow - because the novel is told from the perspective of seven different characters in three different persons - first, third, and the slightly awkward second - which takes a bit of getting to grips with, but once the groundwork is laid the plot moves at a fair clip, offering many reasons to keep reading, not least of which is the opportunity to experience a different side of Bolivia from what most of us imagine - suffice to say, it ain't all ponchos and alpaca!
As always, you can browse an excerpt and the full range of media reviews for yourself; and, if you have the time, I recommend the interview with Soldan.
This review was originally published in September 2006, and has been updated for the June 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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