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American Visa by Juan de Recacoechea
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American Visa (1994)

by Juan de Recacoechea

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We first meet Mario Alvarez when he exits a taxi downtown La Paz, Bolivia to search for somewhere cheap to stay while he applies for a US visa so he can visit his son, who is living and working in Florida. After several failed attempts to find anywhere with a vacancy, he discovers a cheap dive called the Hotel California. Hotel California itself provides a mix of characters all eager to advise the somewhat hopelessly naive Mario. He’s inevitably very short of money, as is everyone. His two new friends exist by selling off a personal archive of books one-by-one, and being an enthusiastic lap dancer and prostitute. Thus begins Mario's increasingly bizarre, Kafkaesque journey of self-discovery.

American Visa isn’t a conventional crime story. The crime itself doesn't occur until over halfway through the novel. This is an almost perfect example of existentialist noir and although there is much to admire in it, I like my mysteries to have more of a focused plot. Even so, it is fascinating to read a book from the Bolivian perspective. It's also not a book for the faint-hearted, as the details of life in this impoverished, land-locked country are dissected in detail, against a background of political commentary against the Spanish colonialists, the British landowners, the silver and tin mine-owners and the government who nationalized everything and consigned the people to poverty rather than their hoped-for freedom. The country is bankrupt, as are many of the people and institutions we encounter in the book.

This book is filled with a series of bizarre characters and situations, but be warned it's very sexist (written in 1994). My favorite part of the book, though, is witnessing the entire process of trying to obtain a visa, with the queues, bureaucracy and cheats that desperate people try in order to get a ticket out of Bolivia. ( )
  Olivermagnus | Jan 17, 2016 |
I was an exchange student in Bolivia so part of the fun of this book for me was reading about Bolivian things. (Novels set in Bolivia are few and far between!) However, I think there's a lot to like about this story even for readers without a Bolivia connection. ( )
  LBM007 | Aug 20, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Juan de Recacoecheaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Althoff, AdrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gugnon, IsabelleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miklavc, FerdinandTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stavans, IlanAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
דפנה ברעםTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my wife Rosario and my daughter Paola. In memory of Don Antonio Alborta.
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The taxi ground to a halt.
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Armed with fake papers, a handful of gold nuggets, and a snazzy custom-made suit, an unemployed schoolteacher with a singular passion for detective fiction sets out from small-town Bolivia on a desperate quest for an American visa, his best hope for escaping his painful past and reuniting with his grown son in Miami. Mario Alvarez's dream of emigration takes a tragicomic twist on the rough streets of La Paz, Bolivia's seat of government. Alvarez embarks on a series of Kafkaesque adventures, crossing paths with a colorful cast of hustlers, social outcasts, and crooked politicians--and initiating a romance with a straight-shooting prostitute named Blanca. Spurred on by his detective fantasies and his own tribulations, he hatches a plan to rob a wealthy gold dealer, a decision that draws him into a web of high-society corruption but also brings him closer than ever to obtaining his ticket to paradise.… (more)

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