Controversy in CHASING THE SUN

el miedoAs you know, yesterday deb Natalia Sylvester’s debut novel, CHASING THE SUN, came out into the world. The novel is about a lot of things. It’s about family. Crime. Power. Sacrifices and choices. It’s also about controversy.

You see, CHASING THE SUN is set during a period in Peruvian history swathed in mixed emotions. There are several references in the novel to the rise of Alberto Fujimori to power. As a Spanish major, I took a lot of classes about Latin American history. I know from my studies (and, okay, I admit, I quick refresher on Wikipedia), that Fujimori served as president of Peru from 1990 to 2000. He is often credited with stabilizing Peru’s struggling economy and ending the armed rebellion associated with the communist guerrilla insurgent group known as the Shining Path. He was also found guilty by the Peruvian Supreme Court, in 2009, of human rights violations for his role in kidnappings and killings by death squad. 

So, you see, these wounds are still fresh. By setting her story in Lima during the transitional years when the Shining Path and Fujimori were struggling for dominance, CHASING THE SUN jumps right into the middle of a hot topic. Political controversy does not dominate the novel, though, and rightly so. It is, after all, principally the story of a marriage quite literally cleaved through the middle. But neither does the story shy away from the reality of what Peru must have been like in those uncertain days.

I have never believed that an author has to live an experience in order to write about it. If that were true, I think readers would miss out on a great deal. Though she did not live in Peru in the 1990s, Natalia gives that period and place a human face through Andres, as he fights to negotiate with Marabela’s kidnapper and bring his wife and the mother of his children home. Through the novel, Natalia presents a snapshot of Peru’s very recent civil strife to American readers who may not otherwise know much about this complicated part of Peru’s past. And, above all, she tells a heart-pounding, page-turning story while doing so.

What are some of your favorite books that tackle controversial topics or time periods?

Image Credit: Chris Taylor

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Susan Gloss is the author of the novel VINTAGE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2014). When she's not writing, toddler wrangling, or working as an attorney, she blogs at Glossing Over It and curates an online vintage store, Cleverly Curated.

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This article has 6 Comments

  1. I can’t think of any books offhand, but I remember the movie Django Unchained was pretty controversial when it came out. I loved it — both what the story was about and how it was told — but some people had other opinions.

    I guess the June Rebellion in France is not exactly controversial at this point, since I’m sure most people (at least it the U.S.) have never heard of it, but I do have to mention Les Miserables (mostly because I like to mention it whenever I can, and I just bought my ticket for the new Broadway production yesterday 🙂 ).

    Oh, and I really enjoyed the movie Good Night, and Good Luck, which, unlike Django Unchained, was very strictly realistic — but that didn’t stop people from complaining about it. I remember wishing my father had been able to see it — he used to talk about how important it had been that Edward R. Murrow had taken on Senator McCarthy (and how powerful McCarthy had been at that point — Murrow could easily have been ending his career).

  2. Thanks for such a thoughtful look at this time in Peru’s history, Susan. It was difficult at times to write because I hadn’t grown up with a very extensive knowledge of it—my parents had taught me much about the Incas and the Nascas and Pizarro, but perhaps the more recent history was too difficult (like you mention, a fresh wound) or they wanted me to focus on the good.

    And there is so much good, but also a difficult past that is just as much a part of our history.

  3. Natalia, I took colonial Latin American history. To my best recollection, the Spanish brought the Spanish Inquisition to the New World. I also learned that Peru was the only place where the conquerors were unable to conquer the Indians. True?

    1. Hi Diana, it’s true that the Spanish brought the Spanish Inquisition to the New World; in Lima, there’s actually a museum housed in the old Senate building that dates back to those times. The Spanish used to torture prisoners in the basement. A lot of the tools and contraptions they used are still on display at the museum…it’s a morbid, haunting piece of history.

      As for whether they were unable to conquer the Incas…to an extent yes and no. They conquerers did ultimately overcome the Incan empire by force, by disease…their population died off in masses. But it’s true that many survived and to this day there are still direct descendants of the Incas living in Peru.

    1. Thank you, Lisa! When I got my edit letter the first thing my editor wanted was more Peru! So I’m glad that you enjoyed it as well.

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