Set in a fictional South American country with a corrupt government that dictates the destiny of its citizenry, Alejandro's Lie by Bob Van Laerhoven is one of those rare and entrancing stories that is a little self-contained but offers depth and redemption. The protagonist, Alejandro Juron, debases himself as a self-confessed cringing vermin after betraying his friend and musical partner Victor Perez who was executed by the junta. After doing time in a prison called The Last Supper, he is released into a society that doesn’t seem to make any more sense to him. Despite the invitation from the resistance to join their crusade, he refuses. Indoctrination from the junta has drastically changed Alejandro. But this does not negate the festering guilt over his friend’s death that weighs heavily on his shoulders, and poor Alejandro will have to choose to fight or lose everything.
There is a poetic quality in Bob Van Laerhoven’s prose that makes the story sing, and its romantic angle reminds me of Love in the Time of Cholera. As for the turbulent backdrop of a system that corrodes the nation, what started out as detention and torture for Alejandro has expanded into a moral dilemma that largely affects not only him but also those people who have faith in him. The choice between freedom and oppression doesn’t come easily, and the antagonists are worth noting for this. Captain Astiz lives up to his reputation when he said that he wants to make sure the prisoners get to know themselves better. He reveals a ruthlessness that makes oppression work. I imagine that Alejandro’s Lie could spark controversy if Van Laerhoven had chosen a real country in which to set his tale. But even in its purely fictional setting, it doesn’t diminish the intensity of the message. It is a great read, one that pops up in your memory if asked to make a list of memorable stories you’ve read that are set in South America.