— Pacazo by Roy Kesey, pg. 287
Part 1 of Pacazo runs from the very first page to the end of page 180. We’re introduced to John whose wife was murdered by a taxi driver and we’re thrown into the middle of John’s breakdown. It’s interesting to come into the breakdown in the middle instead of the beginning. It sort of makes you feel lost, and the narrative the first several chapters makes it almost impossible to follow along as it weaves from John’s story to John’s past, to historical narrative.
By the fourth paragraph we are forced into the historical narrative of the Peruvian people, specifically the Incas.
The nearest building, sharp white. I close my eyes. There is the smell of decomposing leaves, of heat and wet grass. I have been this tired before but do not remember when and a ship drifts south along the coast toward the mouth of a river. A shout goes up. The men gather at the port gunwale. There is a Tallán mending a net on the bank. He is the first human they have seen in two days, perhaps of use. The men drop anchor, lower the skiff, go to get him.
The first 80 or so pages follow this pattern. It’s hard to tell where John is narrating his story or the story of the Incas because it goes in and out. Of course, this historical narrative is important to him: it’s the reason he came to Peru, his wife was Peruvian — these are now his people. We’re learning about the Incas from John, as he knows it to be true, but we’re getting it as it is intertwined into his own story. You have to choose which narrative to follow — either John’s life or the Incan history — or else you will be lost in the jumble.
It isn’t easy to pick out though:
She is right and I love her for this. A light breeze rises, stirs her
hair, and we begin to arrive. I wipe my face, put on my knapsack, lift
Mariagnel to my shoulder. I do not remember ever asking Pilar about
Amalia Puga, and Friar Valverde repents his role, protests the natives
as best as he can, flees after the second Almagrist coup, is eaten by
cannibals on Puna. - pg. 64
This makes it hard to follow for the first 80 pages, but it also makes it memorable. As John weaves his way through the present he is also jumping back in history a few centuries, within the same sentence.
And then there is this epigram (one of the many):
(I)t is often overlooked that the conviction that one can make sense of history stands on the same level of epistemic plausibility as the conviction that it makes no sense whatsoever. — Hayden White, The Content of the Form
It’s clear at this point that Pacazo isn’t just about John, about his love. The language that Roy Kesey writes with is beautiful, sort of a mix of English and Spanish, as if John is losing his “Americanness” and is turning into an immigrant in Peru. Sort of like how, in America, immigrants have been here for awhile and are still creating sentences with a mix of their native language and American English.
It’s also clear that this historical narrative, that of the Incas and of John’s, isn’t important in terms of John’s present. I think maybe he forgets that, or wants to believe that it is important. He’s trying to move forward in the only way he knows how; to relive his past and that of Peru.
— Pacazo by Roy Kesey, pg. 168
Pacazo by Roy Kesey, pg. 160
I’ve been trying really hard to keep an open mind about this book. I knew within the first few pages that I was going to have a rough go at reading it. I think this is where I finally start to get it, where I’m used to the narrative sweeping from one subject to the next within the same sentence, where I can finally start keeping things straight.
Pacazo by Roy Kesey
The opening paragraph.