I happened to read part of a short book review in O Magazine on Lima Nights. My interest piqued by what I read and the author’s name (similar to that of a friend) led to seeking out the book at my local library branch. Fortunately, I found the book on the new fiction shelf.
Carlos Bluhm, an upper-class man of German descent, lives in Lima, Peru in 1986. By all outward appearances, Bluhm leads a charmed life. He’s married to the refined Sophie, also German, and has two sons. He and his best friends have a strong bond. Life seems goods. When visiting a tango bar in a bad part of town, he meets the young, indigenous Maria Fernandez. This sixteen year old chola turns Bluhm’s world upside down. Bluhm and Maria fall into an illicit affair which alters both their realities. Alternating between the views of Bluhm and Maria in 1986 and 2006, the reader sees how their lives unravel and knit together.
The unsatisfactory plot finds salvation in Arana’s style. Her clinical, psychological understanding of the characters as well as her clearly detailed scenes transform the pages into film. Also, Arana’s straightforward way of describing character prejudices between Caucasian and Pre-Columbian races transcends. Ultimately, she tells a story of doing the right thing. The complexity of Bluhm and Maria, in particular, amaze. These characters are multifaceted and breathing! Bluhm is described by a friend as the most lacking in racism. Yet, Bluhm knows otherwise. He knows better than to pursue a relationship with Maria but goes forth. When the time comes to take responsibility, he actually does.
However, this plot made me unhappy. Why? I saw a lot of wounded souls in this book and very little happiness. While only around 250 pages, this was no light read. I’m willing to give Arana another chance but this was not my favorite book.
Three Out of Five Pearls
Word Bank: bandoneón, butifarras, ceviche, chifa, Chola, fraulein, habitués, hacienda, hosta lilies, jitney, mestiza, Mutti, Peugeot, Pilsener, pisco, Riesling, Schätze, schnapps, Shining Path, spaetzle, telenovela, Teuton, vidente
Places: Lima, Peru; Germany; Switzerland; Amazon Rainforest
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