Internationally acclaimed for the virtuosity and power of her fiction, Laura Restrepo has created in Delirium a passionate, lyrical, devastating tale of eros and insanity.
Aguilar, an unemployed literature professor who has resorted to selling dog food for a living, returns home from a short trip to discover that his wife, Agustina, has gone mad. He doesn't know what has happened during his absence, and in his search for answers, he gradually unearths profound and shadowy secrets about her past.
On one level, Delirium reads like a detective story, as the reader pieces together information to discover the roots of Agustina's madness. But it is also a remarkably nuanced novel whose currents run much deeper, delving into the minds of four characters: Aguilar, a husband passionately in love with his wife and determined to rescue her from insanity: Agustina, a beautiful woman from an upper-class Colombian family who is caught in the throes of madness; Midas, a drug-trafficker and money-launderer, who is Agustina's former lover; and Nicolas, Agustina's grandfather. Through the mixing of these distinct voices, Laura Restrepo creates a searing portrait of a society battered by war and corruption as well as an intimate look at the daily lives of people struggling to stay sane in an unstable country.
Delirium already has been awarded the 2004 Premio Alfaguara, the 2006 Grinzane Cavour Prize in Italy, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger in France for best translated fiction. It is an ambitious and deeply affecting masterwork by one of Latin America's most important contemporary voices.
Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.
Aguilar, a former literature professor who now "delivers dog food in order to survive" returns from a trip to find his beloved wife, Agustina, has "transformed into someone terrified and terrifying"; his subsequent investigation into what happened forms the plot of this complex and captivating novel, Restrepo's sixth novel to be translated into English (after Isle of Passion). In reconstructing Agustina's privileged but troubled past, the novel intertwines several narratives, including the braggadocio of Agustina's former lover--and Pablo Escobar money launderer--Midas McAlister; the tragic tale of her German grandfather, Nicholas Portulinus; and Agustina's own pained reminiscences of a childhood centered around an aloof and domineering father whose affection she tried to win and from whose abuse she tried to protect her younger brother. It seems that Agustina's madness sprouts from a denial of violence and obvious truths--a denial that is shown here to similarly corrupt Colombian society. It has all the tension of a great detective story, and Wimmer's translation captures every tormented bit of Aguilar's desperation. (Mar.)
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April 01, 2007
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Excerpt from Delirium by Laura Restrepo
I KNEW SOMETHING irreparable had happened the moment a man opened the door to that hotel room and I saw my wife sitting at the far end of the room, looking out the window in the strangest way. I'd just returned from a short trip, four days away on business, and I swear that Agustina was fine when I left, I swear nothing odd was going on, or at least nothing out of the ordinary, certainly nothing to suggest what would happen to her while I was gone, except for her own premonitions, of course, but how was I to believe her when Agustina is always predicting some catastrophe; I've tried everything to make her see reason, but she won't be swayed, insisting that ever since she was little she's had what she calls the gift of sight, or the ability to see the future, and God only knows the trouble that's caused us.
This time, as usual, my Agustina predicted that something would go wrong, and once again, I ignored her prediction; I went away on a Wednesday, leaving her painting the apartment walls green, and on Sunday, when I returned, I found her in a hotel in the north of the city, transformed into someone terrified and terrifying, a being I barely recognized. I haven't been able to find out what happened to her while I was gone because when I ask she turns on me, it's incredible how fierce she can be when she's upset, she treats me as if I'm not me and she's not who she used to be, or at least that's how I try to explain it, and if I can't it's because I don't understand it myself. The woman I love is lost inside her own head and for fourteen days now I've been searching for her, wearing myself out trying to find her, but it's excruciating and impossibly difficult; it's as if Agustina were living on a plane parallel to reality, close but just out of reach, as if she were speaking a strange language that I vaguely recognize but can't quite comprehend. My wife's unhinged mind is a dog snapping at me, but at the same time its barking is a call for help, a call to which I'm unable to respond; Agustina is a hurt and starving dog who wants to go home but can't, and the next minute she's a stray dog who can't even remember it once had a home.
I'M GOING TO TELL YOU this point-blank because you have the right to know it, Agustina sweetheart, and anyway what do I have to lose talking about it all, when I've got nothing left anymore. Your husband is spinning in circles trying to find out what the hell happened to you and there's so much even you don't know, because listen, Agustina darling, all stories are like a big cake, with everybody's eyes on the piece they're eating, and the only one who sees the whole thing is the baker. But before I start, let me tell you that I'm happy to see you, despite everything I've always been happy to see you, and the truth is that after what happened you're the only person I wanted to see. Will you believe me if I tell you that this disaster started with a simple bet? It's almost embarrassing to confess, Agustina doll, because you took it all so seriously and were hurt so badly by it, but it was the lowest kind of bet, a dirty joke if we're going to call things by their true names, a prank that turned bloody.
We dubbed it Operation Lazarus, because the idea was to see whether we could breathe life back into Spider Salazar's pecker, which had been dead between his legs since the accident at the Las Lomas Polo Club. Do you remember the scandal, Agustina darling? The truth is, it was a stupid, ordinary accident, although later people tried to make it seem more heroic by spreading the story that Spider fell off his horse during a match against a Chilean team, but the rough stuff actually came later, during a drunken free-for-all, because the match was in the morning and Spider had watched it from one of the bottom rows of the stands since he's too fat to make it up to the top.