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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Rodrigo Hasbún

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To purchase Affections

Title: Affections
Author: Rodrigo Hasbún
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 132 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Affections - US
Los afectos - US
Affections - UK
Affections - Canada
Les tourments - France
Die Affekte - Deutschland
Andarsene - Italia
Los afectos - España
  • Spanish title: Los afectos
  • Translated by Sophie Hughes

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Our Assessment:

B : fine family-tale; interesting presentation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 2/9/2016 Julius Purcell
The NY Times Book Rev. . 17/12/2017 Mara Faye Lethem
El País . 29/7/2015 Francisco Solano
The Scotsman . 27/7/2016 Allan Massie
World Lit. Today . 1-2/2018 Kevin Canfield

  From the Reviews:
  • "Much like the story itself, the novel’s laconic title is both suggestive and cryptic. Genetics, nationality and politics form, break and re-form the bonds between its characters, even if affection itself often seems thin on the ground. Sophie Hughes’s translation reflects the affectless prose style that often marks the work of young Spanish-language writers post García Márquez, an underlying hint of turmoil rescuing it from flatness." - Julius Purcell, Financial Times

  • "This slim, striking novel recounts the bizarre story, in poignant shimmering flashes and the subtle interstices separating those flashes, of the Ertl family as imagined by Hasbún. (...) Hasbún’s anti-expository prose is very effective" - Mara Faye Lethem, The New York Times Book Review

  • "La novela no responde a todos los interrogantes que plantea; más bien se decanta por informar del proceso de disolución, donde los vínculos afectivos persisten en la memoria irremediablemente vivos, pero también inútiles, pues la memoria, como se dice en el epílogo, no es un lugar seguro" - Francisco Solano, El País

  • "This is a finely atmospheric book, admirably translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes. It’s a work of sympathetic imagination, written with cool economy, elegance and understanding. It’s a reconstruction of real lives, real historical events, but Hasbún’s achievement is to make it perfectly fictional, which is to say truer than fact." - Allan Massie, The Scotsman

  • "Though the book’s medley of voices begets a couple of jarring transitions, it provides Hasbún with a host of angles from which to examine broad societal shifts and brief, intimate moments in the lives of his ensemble cast. (...) Lots of novels plumb the intersection of the personal and the political, but few have this kind of intellectual heft and emotional subtlety." - Kevin Canfield, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In just over a hundred and thirty generously-spaced pages, Affections chronicles some two decades of the lives of a family, the two parts of the novel each consisting of six chapters (in the first-person, presenting multiple perspectives -- family-members and a few others), along with a final short view 'From a Distance'.
       The family is the Ertl-family -- father Hans and: "his clan, the women who waited for him", his wife, and three daughters -- and closely follows the main biographical outlines of the actual Ertl family. Hans was a famous cameraman in Nazi Germany -- Leni Riefenstahl's "star cameraman" -- who emigrated with his family to Bolivia after the war, while eldest daughter Monika would become notorious for her part in a guerilla movement, specifically as the assassin of the man who ordered the dead Che Guevara's hands to be chopped off (as they had been, for identification purposes).
       Hans was an adventurer, too: the book opens when he has just returned from Nanga Parbat [see his famous film], and his next grand ambition is to find the lost Inca city of Paitití. Monika joins her father on his futile quest, as does still school-age middle girl Heidi, at least for the first expedition; the youngest, Trixi, remains removed from these adventures.
       The presentation of the novel is not so much fragmentary but splintered, reflecting the family and how its members drift apart: a sense of distance and separation is pervasive, whether the characters are in close proximity to one another or, as eventually, far-flung apart. Even as many of the chapters involve characters briefly or ostensibly coming together -- visiting, for example -- the distance between them ultimately just increases; among the few examples of any connection and bonding is when abandoned mother and youngest daughter -- the others are off on their fools' quest, looking for Paitití -- share a smoke at Christmas -- which also includes one of the novel's bleakest exchanges:

     "I want you to remember me like this," she said.
     "How ?"
     "Like this, Trixi. In the kitchen, smoking with you on the Christmas of 'fifty-five."
       Hans has an affair, beginning a long-term relationship with an assistant; Heidi and her husband becomes successful store-owners in Germany (though the relationship doesn't last: four kids and ten years is the extent of it); Monika goes off with the guerillas; Trixi drifts (and the girls' mother simply dies along the way): there isn't even anything close to a center that can hold here. Dissatisfaction, especially in personal relationships, is a unifying thread; none seem to be able to find an other that they can actually hold onto. All the marriages fail -- Monika tried the traditional, conventional role, too, before heading down the guerilla path -- and even Hans' relationship inevitably collapses -- though, typically too, in such a way that he barely realizes (or is willing to admit to):
     "Are you still together ?"
     It took a few minutes for her father to reply that he didn't know and that Burgl had been away for almost three years. They wrote to one another every fortnight and spoke from time to time. For now, they didn't have any plans to start things up again.
       If not always enduring pariah-status, the Ertls remain outsiders: early on Heidi notes that even as they begin to adapt to life in Bolivia: "we would never stop being outsiders", while decades later Trixi finds that Monika's reputation tars her and the rest of the family too; any gains they had made in settling in were lost as, inevitably, everywhere: "They shut us out".
       Affections is an interesting study of displacement and (family-)reputation, the choices -- specifically Hans and Monika's -- having repercussions that extend to the entire family, even as there is less and less unity to the family-whole. Yet it's not just the short chapters, scenes from across several decades, that give the novel the feeling of a writing-exercise, a novel in sketches: Affections is a sort of life-sampler, zeroing in on a few scenes from over this extended period of time, but essentially avoiding any full picture(s). Hasbún's work is both helped and undermined by his reliance on real-life models: the Ertl-story comes so heavily baggaged that readers can easily fill in much that he leaves unmentioned or only alludes to -- but it also limits where his fiction can go, tying it to the real-life facts.
       The scenes in Affections are well and effectively presented -- consistently engaging -- yet the novel as a whole retains an almost skeletal feel, overshadowed too by the real-life Ertls, making for a fine but somewhat odd and ultimately frustrating read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 November 2017

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Affections: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bolivian author Rodrigo Hasbún was born in 1981.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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