Rodrigo Hasbún – Affections

Rodrigo Habún – Affections

A German family emigrating to South America shortly after Worl War II. Hans, a famous film-maker and alpinist who had worked with Leni Riefenstahl, his wife and the three girls Monika, Heidi and Trixi. The father wants to explore the new world, Monika and Heidi accompany him, but they cannot find the lost Inca city. Soon after, the life of the family falls apart. The father is travelling the world, Monika gets married and Heidi is returning to Europe. Only Trixi remains with the mother who is already suffering from cancer and finds her death in the 1950s. The girls’ lives and interests couldn’t hardly differ more. Heidi leads a traditional life in Germany, Trixi is somehow forlorn in Bolivia and Monika has become a fierce supporter of Che Guevara and the guerrillas in South America.

Rodrigo Hasbún, one of the major Spanish-speaking voices in contemporary literature, has based his novel on the true story of the Ertl family. It is supposed that Monika Ertl was to avenger of Che Guevara’s death: in 1971, Bolivia’s ambassador Roberto Quintanilla Pereira was killed in his office in Hamburg by a woman who is supposed to have been her. Off all things, Monika was her father’s beloved child of in whom he saw his only true heiress.

Monika’s life a most intriguing considering the close connection to the Nazi regime, then her fight with and for the guerrilla, the assassination ascribed to her and her death in the Bolivian jungle. Yet, the novel could not really catch me. The characters remain too distant, too vague to really become fascinating and captivating.  I would have liked to get in Monika’s head, to learn how she develops her ideals and her conviction for the fight. But also the others are too distant for me to really get interested in their life and emotions and thoughts.

Apart from the rather shallow characters, the story is centred around the family life. Yet, there are too many leaps in time, too many gaps unfilled to create a complete picture. When Heidi leaves for Germany, her story is lost. Why Trixi is so much detached from the world, remains unclear to me. And the father’s end of career is explained in just one or two sentences.

All in all, an interesting historical figure who could have translated into a great story, but the novel is a bit too superficial in many respects to really convince me.