by Juan de Recacoechea
A Bolivian schoolteacher, Mario Alvarez, has had a string of bad luck; he’s unemployed and his wife left him. He received a letter from his son in the United States; the letter reads that his son wants him to leave Bolivia and has a job lined up for Mario in Miami. All he has to do is get an American visa.
Easier said than done. After having dressed to impress and armed with forged documents at the consulate, Mario learns of the thorough background checks to verify that all documentation is accurate. Having discovered this, Mario leaves the building with only shattered dreams of seeing his son.
What ensues for the Bolivian teacher is chaos. He’s informed that he can obtain a visa for a sum of $800 (US) from a travel agent. Mario cashes in the gold nuggets that his father left him, but still doesn’t have the needed sum. Anxious to escape the poverty and bad memories of the country, Mario contemplates robbing the gold dealer after she leaves the office for the evening. Things go awry and Mario winds up murdering for money, all to have his dreams crushed in the end by the law.
American Visa was translated into English in 2007; according to Akashic Books, it’s the “best-selling novel in Bolivian history.” For a translated novel, it reads extremely well–m ore so than some books written originally in English.
The story reads like a great detective novel, filled with nail-biting twists in the plot when you least expect them– just like the ending (and no, I’m not going to tell you, but it’s not what you think). The characters are well-developed and the settings in Bolivia are painted beautifully, allowing you to immerse yourself in the town that Mario so wants to escape. You feel his pain and desperation throughout; at the end of the novel, you can feel how crushed he is after all his plans have backfired.
The book was a quick read, something perfect for those long summer days up ahead.