Summary and book reviews of Delirium by Laura Restrepo

Delirium

A Novel

by Laura Restrepo

Delirium
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 336 pages

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Book Summary

Aguilar, an unemployed literature professor who has resorted to selling dog food for a living, returns home from a short trip to discover that his wife, Agustina, has gone mad. He doesn’t know what has happened during his absence, and in his search for answers, he gradually unearths profound and shadowy secrets about her past.

Internationally acclaimed for the virtuosity and power of her fiction, Laura Restrepo has created in Delirium a passionate, lyrical, devastating tale of eros and insanity.

Aguilar, an unemployed literature professor who has resorted to selling dog food for a living, returns home from a short trip to discover that his wife, Agustina, has gone mad. He doesn’t know what has happened during his absence, and in his search for answers, he gradually unearths profound and shadowy secrets about her past.

On one level, Delirium reads like a detective story, as the reader pieces together information to discover the roots of Agustina’s madness. But it is also a remarkably nuanced novel whose currents run much deeper, delving into the minds of four characters: Aguilar, a husband passionately in love with his wife and determined to rescue her from insanity: Agustina, a beautiful woman from an upper-class Colombian family who is caught in the throes of madness; Midas, a drug-trafficker and money-launderer, who is Agustina’s former lover; and Nicolás, Agustina’s grandfather. Through the mixing of these distinct voices, Laura Restrepo creates a searing portrait of a society battered by war and corruption as well as an intimate look at the daily lives of people struggling to stay sane in an unstable country.

Delirium already has been awarded the 2004 Premio Alfaguara, the 2006 Grinzane Cavour Prize in Italy, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger in France for best translated fiction. It is an ambitious and deeply affecting masterwork by one of Latin America’s most important contemporary voices.

Excerpt
Delirium

I KNEW SOMETHING irreparable had happened the moment a man opened the door to that hotel room and I saw my wife sitting at the far end of the room, looking out the window in the strangest way. I’d just returned from a short trip, four days away on business, and I swear that Agustina was fine when I left, I swear nothing odd was going on, or at least nothing out of the ordinary, certainly nothing to suggest what would happen to her while I was gone, except for her own premonitions, of course, but how was I to believe her when Agustina is always predicting some catastrophe; I’ve tried everything to make her see reason, but she won’t be swayed, insisting that ever since she was little she’s had what she calls the gift of sight, or the ability to see the future, and God only knows the trouble that’s caused us.

This time, as usual, my Agustina predicted that something would go wrong, and once again, I ignored her prediction; I went away on a ...

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About This Book
Aguilar, a literature professor reduced to selling dog food after losing his job at the university, returns from a short trip to find his wife, Agustina, transformed into “someone terrified and terrifying, a being I barely recognized” [p. 1]. The daughter of a well-to-do family who delights in breaking the rules and flaunting her eccentricities, Agustina Londoño was found cowering in a hotel room; the manager reported that an unidentified man left her there the previous evening. Searching for an explanation for Agustina's breakdown, Aguilar pieces together his own recollections, speculations based on Agustina's vague stories about her past and bits of family history revealed by Agustina's aunt...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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At the start it can be difficult to distinguish who is narrating the various segments of the story, as they chop and change frequently without introduction. This gives the novel an intangible quality that threatens to be hard work, but quite quickly the reader learns to recognize the individual voices, and the threat of the ephemeral gives way to solidly told streams of narrative that reveal, if not the whole, at least enough to see and understand the cause of Agustina's breakdown.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

New York Times - Terrence Rafferty

[B]oth sweeter than you'd expect and less nourishing than you'd hope.

San Francisco Chronicle - Timothy Peters

Agustina is a deeply felt, richly imagined character in this complex novel, but the overbearing weight of symbolic purpose makes her presence more didactic than entertaining (if "entertaining" can even be applied to a novel this serious). Still, Delirium is beautifully written and told.

The New Yorker

Restrepo writes with a sinister lyricism and a dry, leavening wit, detailing the ways in which money, power, and corruption have scourged the fragile Agustina and her city.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Saying that Laura Restrepo's writing is beautiful is kind of like saying that the Eiffel Tower is in Europe. Every word in Delirium is perfectly chosen, painfully honest, and brutally effective. Restrepo chooses her words like a poet, with infinite care. Even without her superb writing, though, Restrepo's novel would be excellent, her story intriguing and engrossing.

The San Diego Union-Tribune

Delirium is a rich literary journey that delivers lush rewards. Laura Restrepo has created a diamond-hard vision that ultimately yields a layered, subtle, intelligent yet audacious sense of life."

The Washington Post

Laura Restrepo's Delirium is a book-and-a-half: stunning, dense, complex, mind-blowing. This novel goes far above politics, right up into high art.

Library Journal

The story, which takes place in Bógota, Colombia, in the 1980s, is tinged with hints of the charged political atmosphere of the time and explores issues surrounding class and money, including Aguilar's rejection of both.

Kirkus Reviews

Restrepo's unflinching portrayal of Agustina's - and, by implication, Colombia's - reluctance to confront her demons has genuine power, and many of this sometimes ungainly novel's big scenes are hard to shake off...Delirium is one of her better books.

Publishers Weekly

It has all the tension of a great detective story, and Wimmer's translation captures every tormented bit of Aguilar's desperation.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Restrepo's shrewd, darkly erotic, and biting psychopolitical drama nets Colombia's magic and sorrows, and maps the damage wrought as delirium seizes individuals, a family, and a nation.

Reader Reviews

Austinlaw

Delirium: Layers of Imagination
Born in Bogotá, Colombia in 1950, Laura Restrepo knew and experienced life in Latin America. Using her experience and knowledge Restrepo wrote her book Delirium, in 2004 Restrepo won the Premio Alfaguara de Novela for her amazing insight into ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Short History of Colombia
About twice the size of Texas with a population of 44 million, Colombia is located just south of Panama (map).  ith a per capita GDP of $8,400, 49% of the population live below the poverty line. . From 1510 the area that is now Colombia was part of the Spanish empire until a nine year uprising led by Simon Bolivar resulted in the formation of Gran Colombia in 1819, encompassing what is now Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela.  In 1830, Venezuela and Ecuador became separate nations, leaving the remaining territory as the republic of New Granada. 

In 1886 Colombia became a single republic following the anti-federalist revolution of 1885.  In 1899 civil war broke out ...

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