The International Writers Magazine: Review
TIJERAS by Jorge Franco
translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa
Seven Stories Press, New York, 2004, 172 pp.
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
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
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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