Cacería incesante. Pedro Novoa. Lima: Editorial Mesa Redonda, 2021. 192 pages.
On the first page of Cacería incesante (Editorial Mesa Redonda, Lima, 2021), the narrator and authorial alter-ego Kilovatio, both an ex-Navy SEAL and an ex-Marine, tells us he’s the bravest of his rank, a bolt from above, a man who received medals and decorations for valor but who, at the moment, finds himself caught in a personal battle: all his medals have disappeared, he’s been discharged from both military institutions for bad conduct, his wife is pregnant, and for the past several months he’s been desperately looking for a job.
Clearly, Pedro Novoa is not wasting his readers’ time, introducing us to the many disasters of his main character all in one blow. His posthumous novel begins with this emotional explosion and doesn’t let up until the end. Cacería incesante is a spy thriller with a frenetic pace, as well as the final effulgence of an author who never wanted to simply rely on the established norms of any literary genre. A writer who, sadly, left us too soon.
Cacería incesante is set in a world of lies and shifting loyalties. This novel is the wild story of our times; an ingenious reinvention of the spy novel itself. As in his other works, Novoa blends the language of the street with the language of poetry. On the one hand, its violence is like a blow to the head, while on the other, its poetry leaves our soul in pieces like a Bach sonata. Even though these two languages might seem to be opposites, the slang and the poetry have something in common: both seek to renew language, to set words free, to wrestle with new forms of expression and, finally, to rename that which a standard vocabulary is incapable of saying. And it is this lyrical power, this poetic force, that is the most noteworthy formal aspect of the novel.
The book is also a tribute to friendship, as Novoa introduces us to many of his writer friends throughout the story, casting them as villains, experts in explosives, sharp-shooters, and spies. And so we can see that the novel’s nemesis—a character named George Tafur—is in fact Jorge Tafur, a Peruvian poet living in Paris. And the lyrical touches referenced above can clearly be seen in a paragraph in which Novoa describes this character in action:
In addition to being a poet, my vices are simple: every day I inject sweet dreams straight into my veins, I like to drink Chardonnay on warm evenings, and I never go to sleep without reading a poem by Baudelaire. Poetry is like being on an airplane without a cockpit: you’re sure you’ll make it to some far-off place, even if you’re not entirely sure by what madness or under the luminous tyranny of what god you’re going to get there.
The character of Kilovatio is a hard worker, meticulous and honorable, at least as he tells it. But his attempts at finding a steady salary are unsuccessful. His job search is hindered by the stain on his résumé, as well as by the fact that he’s the child of Latino immigrants in the United States, and, above all, by a sinister figure who functions as the master of ceremonies for the spy craft that unfolds over the course of the novel. As the protagonist laments:
If I applied for a job, they’d chew on me for a few minutes and then coolly spit me back out. No one wanted to hire me. The only thing I ever got were their suspicious glances. They’d consider me, looking me up and down the whole time, but once they’d figured out who I was and confirmed my Latino roots, there was zero chance.
Finally he sees a possible way out, now that he’s almost totally impoverished and has had to sell his car in order to pay his mounting bills. When a CIA agent contacts him on the web and recruits him to be part of a team that will rescue the president of the most powerful nation in the world, someone who goes by the code-name “Saturno” and who is clearly a stand-in for Donald Trump, Kilovatio accepts the mission for the money, out of pure necessity. He lies to his wife so she won’t worry about him while he’s away, and is provided with cash, a fake passport, a gun, and a ticket to Paris. As Kilovatio’s mission is complicated by the repeated betrayals and double agents typical of the realm of espionage, the world begins to resemble a vast game of chess. Throughout all of this, Novoa skillfully weaves together the various threads of his novel, demonstrating his mastery of tempo: the book never slows down or gets stuck, and it’s never unnecessarily complicated or confusing.
Cacería incesante is a novel that gains heft in the context of its genre’s lightness, above all for its poetic force and for the number of ideas flowing through each page. And it operates on multiple levels: as an attention-grabbing spy thriller written by someone who himself served in Peru’s Marine Corps for three years (in interviews, Novoa frequently discussed his time in the military). But it also reads as a profoundly intelligent work of literature, one which touches on geopolitics, ecology, racism, exploitation, friendship, betrayal, and death.
When we read this book, something magical happens: the realization that there’s someone out there who can find that image we’re looking for, that perfect metaphor, that precise word, that voice that makes us think and feel we’re less alone. And each time Pedro Novoa picks up his pen and writes, he raises the dust, makes sparks fly up from the ground and graze our skin. And on this literary journey, of course, he always ends up revealing the contradictions of this world, the deepest and darkest aspects of being human.
Translated by Nora E. Carr