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