cover image American Visa

American Visa

Juan de Recacoechea, , trans. from the Spanish by Adrian Althoff. . Akashic, $14.95 (260pp) ISBN 978-1-933354-20-0

The narrator of this sweet noir (which won Bolivia's National Book Prize in 1994 and has been filmed) claims to have read Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Dashiell Hammett and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán "as if they were prophets," and their presiding spirits are not far from this winning tale. Mario Alvarez, an English teacher from the provinces of Bolivia, arrives at the zero star Hotel California in La Paz wearing his best suit and clutching a round-trip ticket to the U.S. sent to him by his son. He meets Blanca, a prostitute with cinnamon skin from the tropical part of Bolivia who "had within her the serenity of the great rivers that run through her homeland." Blanca falls for Mario and offers him a more realistic future than the vague promise made by his son, but Mario is obsessed with getting to the U.S. When it becomes clear the authorities will investigate his faked documents, Mario needs to "expedite" his visa problem. Coming up with the harebrained idea of robbing a gold buyer for bribe money, he proceeds to land himself in various inglorious situations. Recacoechea deploys his clichés knowingly and makes Alvarez's crime less a puzzle than an intriguing window onto a society on the fringes of globalization. (Apr.)