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The Armies

by Evelio Rosero

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1618125,975 (3.76)15
Ismail, theprofesor, 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, theprofesor'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.… (more)

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» See also 15 mentions

English (6)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Astounding book that somehow entwines searing violence and touching love in a breathless, frenetic, stream-of-consciousness style. I was a bit puzzled at times in the book, as my background to Colombia is sketchy at best, but as a story, this book is in the class of Ammaniti's I Am Not Scared ( )
  Soulmuser | May 30, 2017 |
(7.5) This story is narrated through the eyes of a retired professor living in a small south American village.
He entertains himself with small voyeurisms on the neighbour's attractive wife. Meanwhile minor incursions of rebels are occurring in the area and people are disappearing. When his wife disappears during an escalation of attacks, the professor's world falls apart as villagers disappear or flee for safety, leaving the town deserted.
For those of us blessed to live in democratic, relatively peaceful countries this is a timely reminder of how others live in these war torn countries. ( )
  HelenBaker | Nov 16, 2015 |
A new Colombian author. You know how some books - say "Heart of Darkness," which I re-read recently - they're like haymakers, just huge bodyblows that knock you flat? This book is like a quick jab. Your head gets rocked back before you even realize you got punched. It's about a small mountain town in the pre-Uribe paramilitary days. It opens hazily, and it's hard to tell what's happening at first; it's like it opens in the immediate aftermath of a bomb blast, and for a while there's just smoke and noise, and it's only as things settle down that you realize who's hurt. Neat trick, and a very worthwhile book. ( )
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
"The Armies" follows the life of elderly former school teacher Ismael and his wife Otilia and their life in a small remote Colombia village. The village is constantly under threat from both rebels and paramilitary forces, who attack the town and military garrison frequently. However, life for the couple seems relatively peaceful, with Ismael continuing his habits of picking oranges and observing his sunbathing neighbor's wife.

However, this life is shattered once Otilia disappears during an attack on the village, and soon life in the town crumbles, as Ismael struggles to find out what exactly happened to his wife. ( )
  PaulBerauer | Jan 17, 2010 |
Evelio Rosero (1958-) is an award winning author and journalist who was born in Bogotá, Colombia, where he currently resides. The Armies (Los ejércitos), his first novel to be translated into English, won the Tusquets International Novel Prize in 2006 and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2009.

Ismael is a 70 year old retired school teacher, who lives peacefully with his wife Otilia in a Colombian village. His days are spent picking oranges from the trees in his garden, while longingly admiring his neighbor as she sunbathes in the nude. Surrounding this peaceful village, however, are guerrillas who grow coca in the nearby hills, who occasionally threaten and kidnap individuals but do not have much of an impact on the town as a whole. Unfortunately for the villagers, the army decides to use the village as a front in the war against the guerrillas, and slowly but steadily the villagers are caught in the middle of these warring factions.

Ismael decides to take an early morning walk, and is detained by government soldiers. Otilia goes to look for him later that day, and Ismael goes to look for her after his release. However, there is fierce fighting on that day, and he cannot find her by day's end. His neighbor's husband and son are kidnapped, and a number of villagers are killed or injured. Over the next days, as the fighting intensifies and the villagers find themselves increasingly trapped, Ismael continues his search for Otilia, vowing to remain there until she returns to him.

No one in The Armies is entirely innocent or guilty: the captain of the army randomly shoots several civilians, accusing them of being guerrillas; the mayor and the local police abandon the villagers with little warning; journalists drop in for photo ops but are detached and uninterested in the villagers' plight; and the country's president denies the existence of the war, and claims that the deaths reported by the media were due to old age.

This was a beautifully written novel which captures the horrors of the Colombian civil war, without resorting to gruesome and repetitive depictions of violence. ( )
3 vote kidzdoc | May 30, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
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And this is how it was: at the Brazilian's house the macaws laughed all the time; I heard them from the top of my garden wall, when I was up the ladder, picking my oranges, tossing them into the big palm-leaf basket; now and again I sensed the three cats behind me watching from high up in the almond trees. What were they telling me? Nothing, there was no understanding them. Further back, my wife fed the fish in the pond: this is how we grew old, she and I, the fish and the cats, but my wife and the fish, what were they telling me? Nothing, there was no understanding them.
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Ismail, theprofesor, 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, theprofesor'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.

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