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.

One of my goals in looking for books set in South America was to find books from Bolivia.  I spent some time there during vet school.


I spent time in Santa Cruz and then in a small town east of Santa Cruz, about halfway to the Brazilian border.  Even on maps of Bolivia that area never gets any love.  So far I haven’t been able to find any books set there.

This book features a man from Oruro, Mario Alvarez, who is in La Paz (one of the capitals) to get a visa.  When he realizes that his forged papers are going to be checked out at the consulate, he panics and tries to find illegal ways to get a visa.

The Good

  • The city of La Paz is a character in the book.  At 13,000 feet above sea level it is the highest capital in the world.  At that altitude it is cold and windy.  Mario Alvarez wanders through the city in search of ideas about how to get to Miami and the different areas of the city and the occupants are discussed.
  • Sassy dialogue – I love funny dialogue with quick comebacks.  This book also talks a lot about the problems trying to get ahead in Bolivia.

“Most of the customers were recruits, laborers, and hoods, the kind of people who couldn’t afford more than twenty pesos a session.  Blanca surprised me.  She didn’t waste any time….. The country’s rotten economy was hitting the expensive hookers; for the common people, something good had finally come out of the recession.”  page 84

He goes past a protest by miners who have tied themselves to a fence in mock crucifiction to protest their wages and working conditions.  He finds that he knows one of the protestors and goes to talk to him.  The miner introduces him to his wife.

“The lady sighed and then covered Justo’s neck with a garment that looked like a scarf.  ‘He told me about you,’ she said.  ‘Would you crucify yourself?’

‘Not for a miner’s salary.’

page 98

The Bad

  • Racism – Every character is described by race or color of their skin.  Generalizations are made based on skin color.
  • Sexism – Every woman in the story is there for sex.  I’m not that surprised by that though.  Bolivia is the only place I’ve ever been where strange men addressed all conversation directly to my breasts and didn’t even pretend to hide it.  Also, the male characters can always easily get sex with every woman even when the men don’t appear to be all that appealling.  Wishful thinking?

The Verdict

If this was a book set in the U.S. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much.  The excitement of having my hands on a real live Bolivian book helped a lot.


Books in Translation Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader