El gran farsante. Luis Carlos Azuaje. Málaga. 2017.
El gran farsante [The great pretender] brings a case from the outrageous national reality of Venezuela to the world of fiction. In April 2013, Yendrick Sánchez, a young man with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, ran up to the podium of the National Assembly while Nicolás Maduro gave his address upon taking office as president. His only crime was to interrupt the ceremony, standing in front of the microphone and saying, “Nicolás, my name is Yendrick, help me, please.” After the incident, the young man faced charges of terrorism, organized crime, criminal association, and aggravated offense against the head of government, and he spent a year and a half in jail in Coro, Falcón state. More recently, last August, the meteoric and astonishing life of this spontaneous young man ended in tragedy: he was murdered by a group of men who confessed to participating with him in an “episode of sexual extravagance.”
Luis Carlos’s novel was written and published before this sinister conclusion, and it lends a fictional dimension to Yendrick (through the character of Junior Mata), with a tone that’s far from tragic, from an openly comical and excessive perspective.
From the point of view of its genre, El gran farsante is indeed a farce. That is, it is written in this particular dramatic form, so dear to theatre, in which the characters unfold as caricatures, in the midst of a buildup of exaggerated situations, outlandish actions, and eccentric behaviors, whose scenes, rich in imagination, come close to the theatre of the absurd. “Ubuesque” was the adjective invented by Foucault (based on Ubu Roi, by Alfred Jarry) to refer to the grotesque character of the discourse of psychiatric practice. This adjective fits perfectly into this novel, whose main character, besides his constant outrageous evocation of the carnavalesque, is clinically diagnosed.
El gran farsante is a novel that contains several novels.
This is a novel about friendship. Along with Junior are Miguel, Winkel, José, and Atítaa, a sort of club of five, a patrol of directionless youngsters who see in fame and in the trap of media limelight the perfect change to leave their anonymity and mediocrity behind. In the style of a Caribbean version of Stranger Things, full of twenty-somethings and conspiracies, these five musketeers go after a media mirage, led on by their conviction to undertake transgressive and/or revolutionary actions.
The group calls itself “La máquina de hacer churros” [The churro-making machine] and they perpetrate their crazed interventions in a Venezuela already severely wounded by the crisis. There’s an Argentine movie from 2003, called Bueva Vida Delivery, that recreates the Argentine social and economic crisis of 2001. In it, a family in precarious straits installs a churro-making machine in their house in order to confront the severe economic difficulties of the time. A digression: the first churros known to culinary history were made in Murcia and La Mancha, whose inhabitants are called Xurros, with an X, in Valencia, which means rude and coarse. If this etymology is correct, the churro-making machine of Junior, Miguel, Winkel, José, and Atítaa could be seen as a device created to produce rudeness, or rather insolence and insensitivity in the national public scene.
El gran farsante is also a novel of protest in which the characters are victims, inheritors of a pattern of exploitative power and an apparatus of political manipulation that has sought to construct and fortify personalism, again and again, and to project the image of a leader like that of a pop star. This charismatic leadership seduces Junior Mata, and he incarnates its pathetic parody.
This is also a novel of prisoners, of prison, a genre to itself in Venezuelan literature. Think of Guasina by José Vicente Abreu, Memorias de un venezolano de la decadencia [Memories of a Venezuelan of the fall] by José Rafael Pocaterra, and Los topos [The moles] by Eduardo Liendo, just to mention three examples that correspond to the dictatorships of Gómez and Pérez Jiménez, and to the armed movements of the sixties.
Narrated in the first person from the Coro prison, where Junior is locked away, the setting is marked by riots and the emblematic figure of the pran, the undisputed leader of any Venezuelan prison. Also present is a certain minister of correctional institutions who is well known to all.
The subject of guerrilla warfare has a curious presence in the novel. There are several secondary characters who participated in the armed struggle, and the first page even references the tragic deaths of three famous Venezuelans linked to it: Fabricio Ojeda, Alberto Lovera, and Donato Carmona. Conspiracy, the violent tools of state repression, and the prison environment complete the menu of this novel in the form of a social memoir, not before passing through a filter of impudence and sardonic humor that pushes to laugh out of sadness.
The reference to the armed struggle becomes a sort of distorting mirror in which we see the reflections of the hare-brained conspiracies planned and undertaken by Junior and his gang, and this parallelismo is a criticism, among other things, of the disproportionate punitive action the state has taken against a mentally ill man. The armed struggle appears, in all its transversality, as an attempt to historically justify present-day reality, just as plagued by injustice, violence, and betrayal.
This is also a novel about television. An homage and, at the same time, a fierce diatribe against the idiot box: “the TV always came first,” says Junior. “My wildest dream was to watch Venevisión in the mornings, Radio Caracas in the afternoons, and Televen at night… And Miss Venezuela, of course.” And, in the end, this is a novel within a novel, as the protagonist makes a deal with an extravagant and invisible literary agent to write the novel we hold in our hands.
El gran farsante explores the possibilities of bringing timely facts of the complex, spiny, and often incomprehensible reality of present-day Venezuela to fiction. The carrousel of outrageous events and baffling news that we are used to receiving every day from this country is so dizzying that it is no easy task to establish the necessary temporal distance that fiction writing requires. This complex, risky effort carried out by Luis Carlos Azuaje in his amusing novel shows that it is possible, and that there is at least one way to understand our present-day tragedy, based on the dramatic mode that seems intrinsic to it: the farce.
Translated by Arthur Dixon