En Rojo: review

photo-10The title of Gisela Kozak’s latest collection of short stories, En rojo (In Red), is somewhat more ambiguous than those of her previous publications including Latidos de Caracas (Caracas Beats) and Pecados de la capital y otras historias (Sins From the Capital and Other Stories). Self defining as a ‘choral narration’, the collection records movements of Kozak’s native city in an atonal key, with long lapses of silence and sudden bursts of sharp shrieks. The overall sound is harsh on the ear (grating at best, unbearable at worst), though somehow works to captivate the reader, not least given the stark beauty of the prose or the human insight of its author.

Each story provides a two-page glimpse into the life of a caraqueño, the overtones of the title transforming with each shift in the narrative composed of seven movements. The first stark reference is to the brick red used by Venezuela’s ruling party in the style of twenty first century socialism. In ‘El gran despecho’ and ‘Instrucciones para ingresar en una nueva sociedad’, pillar box tones are worn by characters enslaved by an obligation to the state, and sported by masses marching in support of the president. More faded shades serve as a backdrop to a disappearing faith in ideology; declarations of apathy signed in blood ink. National politics invades the home, tainting relationships and driving opposing forces apart.

Red too is the colour of violence that runs like blood through the veins of the city. More an allusion than a sensationalist presence, this red underpins the lives of ‘Los tristes’ and ‘Canto de guerrra de las cosas’. Here, the innocent victim of the press is given a face, a place, a past: the Cuban mother of ‘Vuelta a la Patria’, the sister of a homesick ex-pat in ‘Extranjera’, the brutal gang-leader in ‘Objetos al acecho’. Moments that pass in a second, written inescapably or in an ugly twist: the stories shock, marking a wound on the reader too that opens up to personal tragedies.
Red is the colour of families struggling to make ends meet, the fears of mothers of pregnant daughters to give birth before leaving school, the love of a lesbian couple in truce, the passport of those that flee to Europe, the rage that fires much of the narrative. Red too is the man whose boyfriend has purposefully given him AIDS, the woman whose husband cheats and is gay to boot, the student who reads a poor summary of a bad novel tied to reality in class. In direct contrast with visions of a utopian society, En rojo contains all the irony and dark, self-depricating humour present in Kozak’s previous work, but this time it bites.

 

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