Why you should read Down the Rabbit Hole

I’m sure you have noticed I am very keen on literature that talks about drug trafficking, that obscure genre that some call narcoliteratura and that is truly fascinating. But what is even more fascinating is to come across a novel that touches the subject in a new way: humour.

Juan Pablo Villalobos’ first novel Fiesta en la Madriguera, is available in English by And Other Stories and translated as Down the Rabbit Hole. Worth reading and I’ll give you a few reasons why.

The protagonist of the story is a boy called Tochtli and whose age is uncertain. He could be 8, 9,  or 10 years old but in a very intelligent way, Villalobos leaves that to the reader to figure out. He is the narrator of the story and through the pages of this short novel we have the opportuinity to see the world through his eyes. He is no ordinary boy. He is the son of a drug lord. But as tragic as this may sound, the truth is that Tochtli’s view of the world is rather distorted and therefore funny. Really funny. His everyday reality is surrounded by a violence and cruelty he is incredibly familiar with, but therefore he is not scared. “This is what was in the news today on the TV: the tigers in the zoo in Guadalajara ate a woman all up, apart from her left leg. Maybe her left leg wasn’t a very juicy bit. Or maybe the tigers were already full.” (p.20)

Last week, I had the privilege to chair a panel on literature with Juan Pablo Villalobos at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and obviously the topic of drug trafficking came into the  picture. It is true that the world of these drug lords give way to never ending possibilities for stories being brought to fiction. And Tochtli is the result of this. He is a little boy who can wish for anything he likes and  in this world asking of a Liberian pygmy hippo makes a lot of sense. It does!

Juan Pablo told me that while writing Down the Rabbit Hole, the only way to justify Tochtli’s whim is by placing him in the narco world. At the end of the day, this is a rite of passage novel that tells us the bitter-sweet story of this boy. This is what this novel different from any other narconovela I’ve read. Because in the words of Nick Hornby it is about a boy.

But at the end of the day, the big winner of this adventure is the reader because Tochtli brings a smile in your  face. It’s the kind of character you’d like to put in your pocket and take home with you. Things like this makes him unique and incredibly charming:

“There’s a scandal on the TV because they showed a photo of the policeman’s severed head. But it’s not because of his hairstyle.” (p.27)

A truly enjoyable read. Don’t be put off by the drug trafficking references in it. On the opposite, share the joy of being a child again, completely innocent and unaware of the harsh world outside. I think we would all like to be Totchli every now and then and I wish I could be his Facebook friend!

To get a copy of this book visit http://www.andotherstories.org

Literature and Violence: let’s talk about it

Writing about violence is not a new topic in literature. But it became a recurrent subject after the Second World War when the writers used it to talk about the horrors of war, to expose the evil in mankind and to set a reminder of the fragility of peace. It became and stayed popular because violence , more than any other topic, has the power to shock.

For many, violence is an unescapable reality, to others it also comes with a window for creative writing that gives way to new legends, myths, heroes and anti-heroes.

As years passed by, Mexican society has been deeply touched and transformed by the increasing violence as a result of conflicts between drug cartels and police. The impact of this situation in every day life has touched the imagination of contemporary authors, perhaps as a natural reaction to cope with the unstable current situation.

 The publication in 1999 of Un asesino solitario  by Élmer Mendoza got the critics’ attention about this fascinating subject.  Few years later the flow continued with El amante de Janis Joplin (2001) and the award-winning Balas de Plata (2008).

But not only Mendoza captured the sometimes bizarre world of drug trafficking in his novels. The younger and upcoming generation did it too with remarkable and original novels such as Los trabajos del reino (2004) by Yuri Herrera, to be published in the UK under the label of Faber and Faber. Also, the famous blogger Bernardo Fernández (aka BEF) won the Otra Vuelta de Tuerca award with the extraordinary Tiempo de alacranes (2005).  Later on, Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez shocked his readers with El hombre sin cabeza(2009) a mesmerizing journalistic essay on violence surrounding Mexican drug cartels. And as recent as 2010 Juan Pablo Villalobos touched this world under the innocent view of a child in Fiesta en la madrigueraa tragic and funny novel also soon to be published in September the UK by And Other Stories.

These are just a few examples of some of the authors who have touched the subject and who provide the reader with a vast range of points of views and unforgettable characters who question their reality perhaps in the same way a nation demands for answers and solutions to stop the violence.

In my opinion these so-called narco novelas are becoming movement of great literature which I hope leave a mark in the nation’s literary history. For that reason they should be read. They matter. Talking about violence in Mexico matters.