Review / South America / Venezuela

Review: It Would be Night in Caracas (La Hija de la Española) by Karina Sainz Borgo

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It Would be Night in Caracas is a death knell for a mother, a life, and a country all in one furiously, compellingly written—and, as Karina Sainz Borgo goes to great pains to make clear, fictionalised—work that had sold in 26 territories before it even hit the shelves in Spanish.

Sainz Borgo’s debut opens on a burial, the burial of protagonist Adelaida Falcón’s mother, and rapidly descends into the chaos of a clearly mid-Bolivarian Revolution Caracas which provides Adelaida’s grief with a backdrop of brutal protests, tear gas, and black market dealings. Because once it starts, death just keeps on coming in It Would be Night in Caracas, which weeps pain and fury from every page, punctuated only by childhood memories of a seemingly carefree and pre-hyperinflation Venezuela.

First of all: this book is compulsively readable, but this compulsive readability comes at the cost of true suspense. There are certainly moments of genuine page-turning intrigue, but, on reflection, the major plot points feel like mere formalities. Nothing really goes wrong for Adelaida and I don’t want to spoil the major chain of events, but things fall a little too neatly (if undeniably unpleasantly) into place for her throughout.

Even so, I can see why this novel sold internationally before publication. It’s certainly well-written and captivating, plus it provides a perspective on a country—Venezuela—that’s broadly misunderstood in English-speaking circles, either reviled or beloved. However, in doing so, it also plays into a certain readership’s skewed vision of a lawless Latin America in a way that made me somewhat uncomfortable at times, provoking the same unease I get when people tell me they “just love Narcos”. All that’s missing is some cocaine!

(Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that these aren’t Latin American realities, of course. It’s just that they’re also Latin American cliches, particularly in literature.)

So, while the external dystopia served as necessary plot propulsion, it was so contextless and over-the-top at times—and, as other reviewers have pointed out, devoid of class and race considerations—that emotionally engaging with the events was tricky.

Rather, the emotional heart of this tale comes from the quiet mother-daughter relationship between Adelaida Falcón the narrator, the child, and Adelaida Falcón the deceased, the parent, one which must be severed—or at least abandoned—for survival. That’s why the Spanish-language title (La hija de la española, or The Spanish Woman’s Daughter), while not exactly thrilling in English, seems more indicative of what this book really aims to evoke: family ties, the pain of separation, and broader concerns of identity.

Regardless, I whipped through It Would be Night in Caracas in a single afternoon, unable to disengage with the fictionalised world, flaws and all, conjured up by Sainz Borgo. (I’m in no doubt this was helped along by the subtle shifts in rhythm Australian translator Elizabeth Bryer lends to the English-language translation either.) And even though I disagree with the New York Times cover blurb which calls the writing “tense and complex”—I found the writing plain (in a good way!) and the plot immersive but somewhat predictable—I recommend this book, at the very least because it should pique your interest in learning more about the real-life unrest that’s been rocking Venezuela for two decades.

*I read It Would be Night in Caracas as part of my #ReadMoreLatam2021 challenge, for the theme ‘new-to-you-country’.

Buy It Would be Night in CaracasBookshop (US) | Waterstones (UK)

Buy La hija del española: Bookshop (US) | RELI (Mexico) | Casa del Libro (Europe)

About Karina Sainz Borgo

Karina Sainz Borgo (Caracas, 1982) is a Venezuelan novelist and journalist who has been based in Madrid since 2006.

Other Books by Karina Sainz Borgo: Caracas hip-hop (Fundación Chacao para la Cultura y el Turismo, 2006), El tercer país (Lumen Editores, 2021), Crónicas barbitúricas (Círculo de Tiza, 2020)

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