Venezuelan writer Karina Sainz Borgo’s It Would Be Night in Caracas is one of three novels published to launch HarperVia, a new imprint from HarperCollins dedicated to publishing literature in translation. It sets the bar pleasingly high with its immersive story of a middle-aged woman, left alone after the death of her mother, who seizes a chance to escape the long and bloody revolution taking place on the streets of her country.
Adelaida has nothing left of her paltry savings after her mother’s burial. Her only family are her two aunts, now in their eighties, who she remembers visiting in their village as a child. She grew up against a backdrop of the Bolivarian Revolution which began two decades ago. Food shortages have become starvation for many and a source of wealth for others. Abductions are commonplace, gunshot frequent, medicine hard to come by and expensive. One day, Adelaida comes home to find her apartment taken over by a group of women engaged in their own version of state aid distribution. Aggressive and violent, they beat her up, refusing to let her in. Managing to break into her neighbour’s flat, she discovers Aurora’s corpse and with it an opportunity. Adelaida finds herself engaged in the unthinkable in a determined effort to escape the city’s mayhem.
Instead of funeral parlours, the city now had furnaces. People went in and out like loaves of bread, which were in short supply on the shelves but rained down in our memory whenever hunger overcame us.
We’re so bound up in our political troubles here in the UK that we sometimes forget that the plight of others is far, far worse than our own. Syria comes to mind, from which our domestic media seems to have turned their faces, but Venezuela’s situation is also desperate as Borgo’s novel makes clear. She’s careful to remind readers of the inequities visited on a diverse society in the determined grip of a white middle class before the Revolution but brutality, corruption and degradation accompanied by galloping inflation and shortages seems hardly an improvement in a country rich enough in oil for everyone to live comfortably.
Adelaida tells her story in her own voice, weaving childhood memories and scenes from her work as an editor through the events which unfold after her mother’s death. Borgo’s writing is visceral and vivid, her narrative gripping. Her novel effectively humanises the horrors taking place on the streets of Caracas through the story of one woman. In my ignorance, I was not entirely sure how realistic it might be but the chilling disclaimer at the end suggests that several incidents are based on actual events. Publishers’ lists are full of dystopian fiction, often depicting post-apocalyptic events, but if you want to see what a real dystopia looks like, this is it. In the here and now.
HarperCollins: London 2019 9780008359911 240 pages Hardback