cover image A Luminous Republic

A Luminous Republic

Andrés Barba, trans. from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. Mariner, $14.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-328-58934-7

Wild children upend a city on the edge of the jungle in this lyrical, chilling novel from Barba (Such Small Hands). After marrying an older woman with a nine-year-old daughter named Maia, the unnamed narrator moves with them to the woman’s hometown of San Cristóbal in an unidentified South American country in the mid-1990s, where he lands a job as a civil servant. The narrator looks back from the present on his initial years in the provincial city two decades earlier, defined by the emergence of a violent group of child beggars that unsettles the bourgeois population. As the narrator’s employer, the Department of Social Affairs, founders in its attempts to address the situation, the children’s encounters with law enforcement turn aggressive, leading to the death of an officer by friendly fire during a scuffle, after which the children go into hiding. Paranoia over the children’s threat to society intensifies when other children begin deserting their families to join the feral mob. Maia’s biological father adds to the pressure campaign to find them after his 12-year-old son disappears, leading the narrator to a series of extremely difficult choices. The civil servant’s guilt and ongoing perplexity over what happened sharpens the impact of Barba’s spare, philosophical narrative. This frightening picture of the strangeness of childhood will endure. [em]Agent: Sandra Pareja, Casanovas & Lynch. (Apr.)