I finally received the book I’ve been waiting for. My package got lost on the way from the other side of the world, but it has finally arrived! There is something about Latin American literature that is generally not to my liking. I have avoided reading magical realism for this challenge, because it’s a genre I simply do not like. American Visa by Juan de Recacoechea is a typical noir Latin American novel. A man is looking for better opportunities, and wants to go to the United States. The universe has other plans for him.
Mario Alvarez is a teacher who travels to La Paz to get his visa, so that he can fly to his son in Florida. He has fake documents, but a real ticket to Miami. He loses faith in getting a visa the right way, instead he applies for one through an expensive fixer.
While he is waiting for his visa Mario is staying at Hotel California, and he spends time with typical characters from the underworld, people earning a living through questionable means. Corruption is everywhere and you can’t trust anyone. You need to find a way to get by, by any means necessary. You sell what you own, you work for the devil, or you sell yourself.
Mario gets to know a lot of uneducated and poor characters, some have found their niche, others have found a way to survive. La Paz can be cruel and unfriendly for people not familiar with customs and politics. The American dream is however alive and kicking. It seems to me most countries in the world have a lot of people looking for better opportunities, and there are a few dream countries in the world where both young and old would happily go. Sometimes dreams come true, but it might not always be what you expected it to be.
A divorced middle-aged man with a son looking for better opportunities in the land of opportunities probably makes it a lot easier to take the leap. If you feel like you have nothing to lose, because everything is basically gone already, makes it even easier. Mario however gets something to live for during his visa applying days in La Paz. He also ends up doing something that makes him want to leave immediately.
American Visa gives an overview of what life can be in a bit surreal world in La Paz. It is frank and quite brutal in its honesty, when it comes to describing perfectly ‘normal’ destinies of people trying to earn a living. Life as a prostitute in La Paz is not glamorous, but not repulsive either. It is just another way of getting by, nothing more, nothing less. I think this is the strength of the book; everyone has a place in this odd world, and it’s better to grab the opportunities in life before they are gone. When one dream does not come true, another one might occur. People evolve, so do dreams.