cover image Affections


Rodrigo Hasbún, trans. from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes. Simon & Schuster, $23 (144p) ISBN 978-1-5011-5479-9

The Ertl family produced two infamous members whose lives are fictionalized in Hasbún’s moody and spare novel. Hans Ertl was a famous Nazi cinematographer exiled to Bolivia after World War II, where he became obsessed with finding the Lost City of Paititi. His eldest daughter, Monika, who accompanied him on an expedition to find the mythological land, married into a wealthy family before becoming radicalized, joining the Marxist revolutionary movement, and becoming a guerilla fighter. All of this is known as fact, but through his measured and oddly ethereal writing (reminiscent somewhat of Paulo Coelho), Hasbún creates a sort of double exposure of the Ertl family’s slow demise over the upheaval roiling through South America. The impact of Hans’s restlessness on his family—his three daughters and their mother—frames the narrative, which unfolds through multiple points of view. Somehow, it is Trixi, the sister who stayed behind with her mother while the rest of the family sought Paititi, whose staid narrative provides the most powerful moments: from her unhappy, cancerous mother deliberately introducing her to cigarettes at age 12, to the devastating paragraph in which Monika corrects Trixi’s naive belief that her older sister’s lover died accidentally: “They kicked his spine until it snapped.” This is an inventive, powerful novel. (Sept.)