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4.0 out of 5 stars The Sins of the Father, 9 Jun. 2013
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Blue Hour (Paperback)
Adrian Ormache is a successful lawyer, living and working in Lima, Peru. He is married to the beautiful Claudia, they have two lovely daughters, a beautiful house and they lead a very privileged life. Adrian has always been very close to his mother, a dignified and gentle woman, who reared Adrian and his brother, Ruben, single-handedly after she divorced their brutish naval officer father. When Adrian's mother dies suddenly, he is distraught - but he is even more shocked and upset when he discovers a letter amongst her belongings, making terrible claims about his deceased father's conduct during the Peruvian Civil War in the 1980s, where it appears he not only committed atrocities against the Senderistas (or 'Shining Path' guerrillas), but also kidnapped a beautiful young girl, raped her, and kept her his sexual prisoner, until she managed to escape. (No spoilers - we learn most of this early on in the novel). It now seems that the girl's family are seeking retribution for his father's past crimes. Adrian, who knows practically nothing of his father's past life, cannot rest until he discovers if there is any truth in the claims made against his father, and soon he becomes totally obsessed in his quest to find the girl at the centre of mystery. This journey takes Adrian out of his comfortable existence and into some very difficult situations where he is forced to confront not just his father's past, but also harrowing aspects of Peru's recent past. Soon Adrian finds himself in a situation where he risks losing everything, including his own family.

Translated from the Spanish and winner of the Premio Herralde de Novela, Alonso Cueto's intelligent and penetrating novel makes for gripping, if sometimes uncomfortable, reading. The way the author combines Adrian's personal grief and anguish with the larger issue of Peru's tragic past is deftly accomplished, reminding us yet again, how the horrors of war can cast very long shadows. So, not a very comfortable read, but an emotive and thought-provoking one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Survivors' Guilt, 27 Jan. 2015
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Blue Hour (Paperback)
Alonso Cueto's much-praised novel is set in contemporary Peru, with flashbacks to the Shining Path terrorist movement of the 1980s. Adrian Ormache is a well-paid commercial lawyer, married to the exquisite Claudia, with a beautiful house in Lima, two lovely daughters, plenty of money and a laid-back business partner. The only real blot on his life has been the estrangement of his parents, who split when Adrian was a toddler, but even this doesn't distress him much - until his mother dies. Adrian's mourning for his mother is heightened by his gradual discovery of his father's less than honourable behaviour towards Shining Path members and their associates during his military career. A chain of complicated events leads Adrian to learn about Miriam, a beautiful woman who was wrongly jailed during the civil war, and who Adrian's father loved. Through his attempts to trace Miriam, and his discovery of a number of facts about his father, Adrian comes to feel increasingly critical of his own pampered life. And when he finally tracks Miriam down, his encounter with her - a woman who has lost everything but heroically determined to continue with life and make good - leads him to such self-disgust that his marriage and career come under threat.

This is a well-written and compulsively readable novel (I read it in about three hours) with some thoughtful reflections on the horror of war, of survivor guilt and of the indulgent and materialistic aspects of middle-class society today. I knew little about Peruvian history and was interested to read about the 1980s civil war - though as someone who's not well-versed in Latin American politics I could have done with a little bit of historical information, perhaps in a prelude or after note. In terms of plot, Cueto did rather well, setting up two mysteries (first, will Adrian find Miriam, and second, will his discoveries lead him to breakdown or to break away from his social background) that made the book fairly unputdownable. Of the characters, I felt that Miriam was particularly interesting, and would have liked her to feature more - Cueto wrote very well about her pain at having survived when so many of her family did not, her faith in God and her struggles to establish herself. I have to say (and this was the one thing I did not enjoy about the book) that for me the rest of the characters were less compelling. The men all seemed terrifically laddish (the amount of swearing in the first couple of chapters nearly made me give up) and terrifically lazy (I thought commercial lawyers worked long hours, but Adrian always seemed to be able to take an afternoon off, or go for a long liquid lunch). Cueto could occasionally write beautifully about Adrian (as when he reflected on how much he missed his mother, and how difficult he was finding it to relate to Claudia) but for long stretches he came across as a rather selfish, self-involved character, given to acting on bizarre whims (randomly embracing a woman he'd only just met) or complaining if things didn't go his way - a particularly odd example of this was when he took Miriam out for a meal and sulked because she wasn't cheerful, saying something along the macho lines of 'if I was going out with a woman, I expected her to be pleasant with me'. I wasn't sure in the final stages how much we were meant to consider his grief as justified and as reflecting his guilt about Miriam and her family, or whether part of it at least was an extended ego-trip. And the rest of the characters were fairly insubstantial. I ended up wishing that Cueto had told some more of the story from Miriam's point of view - it would have been a good contrast to the polished bourgeois chatter of Claudia and her friends, or Adrian's colleagues.

Not an altogether satisfying read then, but still much recommended for the interesting depictions of Peru (including its landscapes) and for the author's moving meditations on the guilt felt by survivors of terrible events.

Three and a half/four stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Full of surprises, 21 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: The Blue Hour (Paperback)
This thought provoking book is not predictable and full of well-worn clichés. There are many layers to unravel and it certainly kept me guessing until the end. Not always an easy read but an educational one. Excellent.
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The Blue Hour
The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto (Paperback - 6 Jun. 2013)
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