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The International Writers Magazine
: Review

translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa
Seven Stories Press, New York, 2004, 172 pp.
ISBN: 1-58322-609-5

Colombian Jorge Franco's first novel available in an English translation takes place in Medellin during the Drug Rush of the 1980s. The novel's heroine, Rosario Tijeras, has overcome a childhood of misery and poverty by becoming lover to drug lords. But Rosario's devotion to the gang life is anything but constant. She strays enough for author Franco to set the violence more as a backdrop for a story about two friends, Antonio and Emilio, who would be Rosario's heroes.

The novel begins--and is suspended for its whole narrative--by a single event: Narrator Antonio recounts how he took Rosario to the emergency room after she was shot at point-blank range while kissing someone. But after reading not too many pages of ROSARIO TIJERAS, this novel suggested something more than a drug money shootout. For this reviewer, Francois Truffaut's cinematic menage a trois JULES ET JIM (1962) came to mind.

In both stories, two men, each in their own way, fall in love with a woman of mystery, a woman who draws them toward bittersweet tragedy, who seems propelled by psychopathic desire for self-obliteration. Who can forget the image of Jeanne Moreau as Catherine, playing by her own rules, driving her passenger in a car off a bridge to their watery death?

If Truffaut had Jeanne Moreau to help realize his vision, Franco uses literary techniques to create an attractive woman who draws two friends simultaneously into her force field. He breaks with the magical realism of Colombian predecessor Garcia Marquez and others to write a dark, gritty urban novel, wholly appropriate to the desperate lives caught in Medellin narcoterrorism. But he eschews violence for its own sake. Cold-blooded violence in ROSARIO TIJERAS always seems to occur "offstage." Shootings are not reported in detail, but instead are reprised as offhand punctuations in the history of Rosario as Antonio meditates on her history, pacing hospital floors, eager to hear of his friend's fate.

Antonio tells about his platonic atttraction to Rosario. He questions his friend Emilio's physical, if frustrated, love life with Rosario. For she has the habit of disappearing for weeks at a time to be with drug lords. Her other life gave her material riches and confirmed her nihilist killer instincts.

Patiently, Franco builds reader suspense in this psychological novel. As Antonio waits to learn of Rosario's fate, it is always 4:30 in the morning with the sun about to rise. The present is absolutely static. Antonio is forced, in between the scant minutiae he relates about the present, to tell us about the past. What the past means to him, to Rosario, to his friend Emilio. Whether Rosario survives is a question stretched across the whole narrative of the novel. For Antonio, the present has stopped; only the past moves.

Chapter by chapter, Antonio tells us more about Rosario, paradoxically also building the mystery about this woman for whom he and his friend both share an addictive love. The reader is teased to learn about the night Antonio's friendship with Rosario became more than platonic. As with Rosario's fate, Franco artfully carries Antonio's revelation to the novel's last pages.

With ROSARIO TIJERAS, Franco has written a meditation about love in the face of death. Was Rosario impossible to love? For Antonio? For Emilio? Not easy questions, but certainly worthy ones for this well-wrought, character-rich fiction from Jorge Franco--a novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez has selected as "one of the Colombian authors I would like to pass the torch to."

© Charlie Dickinson December 2004
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