President Hugo Chávez's cancer looms large over his nation in 2012, casting a shadow of uncertainty and creating an atmosphere of secrets, lies, and upheaval across the country. Against this backdrop, Barrera Tyszka follows the connected lives of several Caracas neighbors consumed by the turmoil surrounding the Venezuelan president's impending death.
There is nothing quite like fiction to grasp the true nature of an oppressive regime. Novels allow us to witness the effect of oppression on the day-to-day activities of ordinary people, and on their often failed attempts to enjoy some sort of private life in the face of the regime’s intrusions ... The Last Days of el Comandante is...enthralling...revelatory...with its skilfully wrought atmosphere of suspense and energetic prose, well translated by Rosalind Harvey.
Mr. Tyszka is a versatile writer who merits wider attention...blending brisk, ironic parables with dryly disenchanted commentary. This novel is, on balance, more analytic than aesthetic (the translation, by Rosalind Harvey and Jessie Mendez Sayer, is clear and straightforward), valuable especially for Sanabria’s insights into the destructively politicized nature of Chávez’s death.
In sum, the novel’s English translation does a devastating job of portraying the almost magical power that a single, charismatic leader can hold over a country and its people, becoming in essence a talisman that enables people to ignore reality in favor of a blind faith that things are indeed going to get better ... The Last Days of El Comandante will be a riveting, tragic read for those who are well versed in authors from Borges to Poniatowska, as well as those who are new to Latin American literature in general ... the novel’s intimate portrayal of a country’s slow shattering will resonate globally in its exploration of how people struggle to deal with violence, desperation, hope, and fear, as events drag them into an unthinkable future.