La Panamericana. Santiago Elordi. Madrid: Editorial La Huerta Grande, 2018. 176 pages.
Last year, we were treated to one of the most recent novels by Chilean writer and documentary filmmaker Santiago Elordi: La Panamericana. La Huerta Grande press undertook the publication, confident in their belief that this book would indeed become one of this year’s must-reads.
Nevertheless, this does not mean to say that La Panamericana is a commercial novel, one of those that seeks to climb the shelves of “bestsellers” in bookstores and that bursts into readers’ consciousness after a monstrous promo campaign. Within the possibilities of this new publication there hides, perhaps, the most important intention of art: La Panamericana is, by its own merit, a cult object. It can claim this title because it is built (and it concludes, almost imperceptibly) by disturbing consciousness and implanting doubt.
There is a deep abyss between literature destined for consumption and underground or alternative literature. This is not a question of drafting a generalizing paradigm of the presses and media that promote one type or the other (in a reality of gray in-betweens and exceptions, like the reality of literature, such a discussion could take days, even weeks, and it would only serve to lead us to a nonexistent conclusion). Rather, it is a question of proving the importance of backing up books that encourage the construction of an opinion critical of our surroundings.
And so we have felt (not seen, nor analyzed, but felt) the workings of Elordi’s new novel, La Panamericana. Emerging from the notes of the author himself, notes he compiled years before on a similar journey through the various countries of America, it tells the story of Vicente Concha and the path he must take, not only physically but also spiritually and intellectually, to return to his native Santiago de Chile. “A literary character,” Elordi declares, “who is already well known, an existential traveler like The Stranger of Camus, drowning in his own freedom, bordering on self-destruction.” He will return to the Chilean capital to discover he has a daughter in that city, and this will be the first turning point in his life. Then he will set off towards an apparent starting point, a return and a route that will prove, through its loquacious, analytical, and romantic narrative, the effect of time and of lived experience on our understanding of the world.
The second turning point gives shape to his diary, dividing it into two sections of theological echoes: “Antes de la caravana” (AC) and “Después de la caravana” (DC). This moment comes when he meets “los tres” [the three] at a port on the Colombian Amazon: Ivonne, Max, and Jerónimo, characters charged with a strange mysticism who will change Vicente’s life. At that moment, he will become the driver of their Bugatti and he will join the group on their path along the Pan-American Highway, hurtling irremediably toward the explosion of his fate.
In this way, we also set off from a fantastic crossroads of memory and the future, the evident and the apparent, the weight of reality and its lightness when, like Vicente, we are able to minimize the world. La Panamericana urges the reader to put on the glasses of the continuous questioner; there will be no other entrance into this wild and unexplored world that stretches from the lush forests of the Amazon to the Atacama Desert to the ice of the far south.
Santiago Elordi has written a total work that roundly attacks the various dimensions of love, friendship, and the settings of life. His novel is a song of individual liberty (which Vicente professes and teaches us by example), and it is peppered with a poetic language engrossed in the purity of its intentions; La Panamericana could be poetry in novel form, an entirety tainted by possibilities and questions about who we are, what surrounds us, what the future will bring.
We have here a border tale with beatnik echoes, not only thanks to the physical borders crossed by Vicente and “los tres,” but thanks to its elegant, exhilarating way of jumping over the limits and social conventions that mark us and hold us in a tight grip. La Panamericana treasures the most mundane anxieties and shows us the sublimity of this trivial universe, as well as the magic of a literary grandiloquence that emerges more from the shamanic dimension of the characters than from their own human condition. In this way, we enter also into the problems of the present globalized world, governed by technological totalitarianisms. Vicente speaks to us from the epilogue, still trying to take in a third blow to his life: his position as a worker in a video game company leads him to realize how different life was before the eruption of technologies in the construction of human relationships and individual consciousness.
This novel is a vertiginous glimpse into the deepest judgments of humanity. It is the organic and independent personalities of its characters, the way they interact with a living landscape that also responds to the reader’s impressions, that transforms La Panamericana into the story of stories. Santiago Elordi may have already placed the endpoint, but everything that begins to end with the apotheosis of the reading experience is, like the path of Vicente Concha and “los tres,” unpredictable, thrilling, dangerous; everything turns around the beauty and the potentiality of the unknown, and around our ability to overcome ourselves.
Sara Sanz Bonilla
Translated by Arthur Dixon