Pacazo. A Love Story.

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Rumpus Book Club member Claudine Asbagh reviews the club’s January pick, Roy Kesey’s Pacazo:

In his first novel, Pacazo, Roy Kesey takes an idea that could have been fodder for a mediocre mystery – a man searching for the truth about his wife’s murder – and turns it into an exploration of truth itself, both personal and historical. Who gets to determine exactly what is true? That’s the question that interests Kesey. In asking these questions, Kesey has also highlighted that histories are always defined by the person telling the story. The narrator controls the information and, in most cases, the one that possesses the power.

John is a historian who teaches English at a university in the town of Piura, located near the Ecuadorian border in Northern Peru. Early on we discover that he is the father of young Mariangel whose mother was brutally kidnapped, raped and left for dead in the desert. The local police have closed the case due to insufficient evidence, yet John is
determined to find his wife’s killer. Throughout the novel he recites the fragments of a license plate number from the taxi she got into when he last saw her: it began with a P and ended with 22.

John devotes days in the desert looking for clues, and as he does so, we become acutely aware that the story being told may not be entirely accurate. What is reality? What is history? At times it seems that even our protagonist is confused.

Kesey takes John’s search for his wife, Pilar, and intertwines events from the Conquistadores—another history shrouded in uncertainty. At times the narrative jumps from present tense, to John’s past tense, to a past that dates hundreds of years ago. The events from his own life and search begin to mimic the histories of Latin American cultures—the cultures he studied for a still-unattained Ph.D. We come to see that he has lost the thread to both his personal and historical searches. We become lost in the story of his frantic search to find the missing pieces that will allow him to move into the future and out of the past.

The book is rich in imagery and captures the scents, appearance and traditions of a country of which most people have only a passing knowledge.The book contains a comprehensive list of songs that anyone with an interest in Latin American music would appreciate (I, myself, am making a playlist). Destruction and violence are a theme throughout, and the story skillfully juxtaposes the destruction caused by the El Nino storms of the 1990’s, the capture of the Incan Empire, and John’s sanity as he searches for truth. Somehow Kesey manages to describe not only destruction, but a country and culture that’s proven resilient in the face of destruction.

I don’t know if Kesey intended the story as a love letter to Peru, but while reading, and now long after, images of avocados, mangos, the jungle, the people and *this* story continue to capture my thoughts.


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