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5.0 out of 5 stars "It is extraordinary, we seem besieged by an army that is invisible.", 13 July 2010
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Armies (New Directions Paperbook) (Paperback)
(4.5 stars) Within this short, allegorical book, Evelio Rosero creates a microcosm of Colombian rural life in the fictional community of San Jose, where no one knows who will attack them next--the army, the paramilitaries, the guerrillas, or the drug lords. Though the residents are peaceful small farmers with no interest in the country's politics, every militant faction vying for power in Colombia somehow believes that these residents constitute an imminent threat. The four militant groups each want to dominate and control the area to prevent any other group from controlling it, and they are willing to massacre innocent men, women, and even babies to achieve their bloody but elusive goals.

In the hands of Colombian author Rosero, every character in the novel becomes a sort of Everyman, an ordinary person living his own life, just like the ordinary people in any other country. Because Rosero also creates intriguing, quirky personalities for his characters, they are livelier than most other generic, "Everyman" characters, and they therefore generate sympathy and understanding of their individual problems while they also represent broader, more elevated themes. As the village comes under fire from bloodthirsty enemies as undifferentiated to the residents as they are to the reader, the author's universal themes of good vs. evil, power vs. subservience, and human kindness vs. barbarism become allegorically obvious.

Ismael Pasos, a seventy-year-old retired teacher, lives with his wife Otilia, also a teacher, on a small farm, the highlight of his life being his daily climb of a ladder to watch his neighbor's young wife, Geraldina, sunbathing nude. Now elderly, Ismael and Otilia are about to visit Hortensia Galindo on the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of her husband, captured by some unknown militant group and now "disappeared." Within days, his neighbor, the "Brazilian," his son, and their 12-year-old female cook, have also been taken. Nothing is being done to find the missing.

As circumstances become progressively worse and the atrocities become ever more brutal, Ismael becomes less lucid. The final scenes challenge the reader to see any hope for a peaceful life for these villagers, any hope for the future, any hope that beauty and kindness and love can possibly exist within such a culture. Though some readers may become frustrated at not knowing exactly which factions are perpetrating the various acts of violence, others will find that not knowing the answers puts them into the shoes of the villagers more directly. Some may also feel that the characterization of Ismael becomes vague and hard to follow when he begins to lose his hold on reality, while others will feel it makes him even more human and damaged by events. The novel leaves many questions regarding the future of this area, but it leaves no question at all about the courage of the author to raise these issues in print while they are continuing. Mary Whipple
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The Armies (New Directions Paperbook)
The Armies (New Directions Paperbook) by Evelio Rosero (Paperback - 10 Jun 2010)
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