Ramifications

Mexican writer Daniel Saldana Paris is the latest to join the Charco Press list – an increasingly infallible guide to contemporary Latin American literature – though the first, I think, to have already been published in English. His second novel, Ramifications (translated by Christina McSweeney) is set largely in 1994, as the narrator attempts to come to terms with events in his childhood which have continued to affect him to the present day where he finds himself rarely leaving is room as he excavates his memories in writing.

These events begin with his mother, Teresa, leaving one day when he is ten years old with no word to either him or his sister, Mariana, and only a letter left for his father (of which he is only able to read the first line until he finds it again as an adult) explaining her actions. As difficult as this would be for any child, it doesn’t help that he has little in the way of a relationship with his father, whom he sees as “a sort of robot that provided transport and a certain amount of affection; something between a pet and a household appliance.” His father represents a macho attitude to life which the narrator rejects, having, for example, no interest in football. As the novel progresses his view of his father becomes more marked: he calls him a “troglodyte” and claims:

“He was incapable of empathy, and all his decisions were based on his own feelings and needs.”

His mother, on the other hand, even when he discovers she has left for Chiapas to join the left-wing guerrilla movement there, remains forgiven. In fact, his father is blamed for this too:

“He’d fallen in love with an independent, politicised student, but them he’d wanted to shackle that independence with the yoke of marriage and motherhood.”

The story becomes particularly gripping when the narrator heads off to find his mother. This is not planned, but occurs accidentally when, ironically, his desire to hide himself away leaves his sister to believe he has gone missing. Having fallen asleep in his ‘Zero Luminosity Capsule’ (a space he has created in his wardrobe of complete darkness) he resurfaces to discover that his sister is out looking for him, and his sister’s boyfriend, Rat, insists that they, in turn, look for her. Rat is another example of masculinity – “the leader of a group of hell-raisers famous for his precocious consumption of illegal substances.” They end up in the bus station – perhaps Mariana has gone there thinking her brother might go in search of their mother – and Rat (who, like his father, disappoints – “His fame as a rebellious teenager once again appeared unjustified”) leaves him money to take the bus to Chiapas.

The dangers of the journey (which will last many hours) are demonstrated when the bus is stopped by soldiers and the narrator taken outside. The incident again focuses on ideas of masculinity as the narrator is accused of being a ‘fairy’ by a teenage soldier, which he again connects to his father, suspecting that the soldier’s laugh is “similar to my father’s”. It seems that life is not as straight-forward as the Choose Your Own Adventure novels the narrator loves.

The narrator’s search for Teresa is as much an inward and an outward search (in fact he says, “Writing about the past is… writing inward not forward”) and therefore one that continues in the present day. Though the narrator rejects his father, he cannot help but see himself like him:

“I was developing my father’s features, his brusque, uncouth manner.”

On the other hand, he can see little trace of his mother:

“I’d spent years scrutinising the mirror in search of Teresa’s features.”

Does he fear that his mother abandoned him because he was too similar to his father? Early in the novel he feels that she treats his sister differently, “as if she knew I was already a lost cause, condemned to march in the enemy ranks.” This might make us suspect that the narrator is unreliable. As he points out himself, “the memories we most frequently return to are the most inaccurate.” Not only that, he refers to his tendency to avoid the unaltered truth a number of times in the novel. When he imagines telling his friends about his summer he says:

“I might perhaps add a little harmless exaggeration to heighten their awe.”

Later, in reference to his bus journey, he tells us “I’d fabricated a version of the story… that, I calculated, would even impress the most cynical and abusive of the Year 6 children.” In fact, one of the many things he holds against his father is “it annoyed him when we told lies.”

This makes Ramifications a compelling examination of self-deception, leaving the twist at the end open to interpretation: are events quite as dramatic as he claims or is he justifying the side he has chosen? Ramifications is a tense, breathless read, but also one that echoes in the reader’s memory long after they have out it down.

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4 Responses to “Ramifications”

  1. Liz Says:

    I have skimmed this because my own copy is sitting blinking at me on the table, but am delighted to see from your final paragraph that you enjoyed it. I really like Charco Press’s publications and am looking forward to this one too.

  2. JacquiWine Says:

    Sounds like another characteristically excellent addition to the Charco Press list. They really do seem to be breaking new ground in bringing interesting Latin American fiction to a wider audience – a laudable initiative, especially in the current times.

    I know I keep saying this, but I do want to try them at some point, hopefully next year, with your recommendation of The Wind That Lays Waste being my likely choice.

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