Margaret Ann Spence Coming Home

Chasing the Sun

Natalia Sylvester Lake Union Publishing, 2014 In Lima, Peru, a wealthy couple, Andres and Marabela, are not happy. He’s conventional, kind, and a bit of a wimp. The couple met at university, and Andres, who was supposed to marry his childhood friend Elena, fell in love with rebellious, artistic Marabella. Now, almost twenty years and two children later, Marabella is dissatisfied and has already left Andres once. When the novel begins, Andres waits for Marabella to come home for dinner, and when she does not, he at first thinks she has left him again. It dawns on the reader even before Andres realizes it, that Marabela has been kidnapped. The first chapter is dated 1992, a time when Peru was convulsed with conflict. Communist rebels, who called themselves The Shining Path, terrorized the countryside. As Andres muses, “in the nearly two years since the new president was elected, his promises of a crackdown on terrorism have turned as brittle as cracking paint….the city is now the perfect incubator for a thriving business of kidnapping. While the majority of the country’s police force focuses on controlling armed uprisings and terrorism, smaller crimes are overlooked.” With the sickening realization that his wife has been taken, Andres must negotiate with the kidnappers to get his wife back, all without arousing suspicion or telling the police. He hires an experienced negotiator. Sylvester rachets up the tension in this psychological drama as Andres must deplete his bank account, get rid of everything he has, to satisfy the kidnappers’ demands. Without the housemaids, without a job, he is diminished, sucked dry. Marabela’s suffering, though, is much worse, of course. It is only when Andres meets his childhood friend Elena again that he begins to understand how great that suffering was. Elena, too, had been kidnapped, and is now in a mental institution. Does all this horror add up to a great plot? The story is well told. But Sylvester gives us an ending that evades the emotional devastation that she’s led us toward. Still, the book stayed with me. Its portrait of a society in which the unpredictable is normal, where people who can afford it live behind high walls and locked gates yet still can’t protect themselves, is very unsettling. Sylvester excels in her showing of a disintegrating marriage. The first half of the book is in Andre’s viewpoint, the second in Marabela’s. This enables empathy for them both. Interestingly, the strongest characters in this book are women. The maids, Consuelo and Carla, Andres’ mother Lorena, and Elena and Marabella all have distinct and powerful personalities. Sometimes poor Andres seems to be as powerless against their emotional manipulation as he is against the kidnappers’ demands.

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