Book Review: It Would Be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo

It Would Be Night in Caracas – Karina Sainz Borgo (HarperVia, 2019)

This book was translated from the Spanish by Elizabeth Bryer.

It Would Be Night in Caracas was a chaotic, difficult read. Many parts felt like they took place in some sort of post-apocalyptic hellscape. There was a constant stress and tension and always a looming threat over our main character and narrator. I’ll admit that my knowledge of Venezuelan politics, history, or current events are so slim that I wasn’t sure how much of the story was based in fact but it also felt at parts like reading a memoir.

The narrator is Adelaida Falcon, a woman in her thirties whose mother has just died. Adelaida’s life has been wrapped up almost entirely with her mother’s, also named Adelaida. They have little family, few close friends, living together in the same apartment in the city of Caracas. This has always been Adelaida’s life, interrupted with the occasional visit to her aunts in a smaller town nearby.

Now, however, her mother has died and Caracas is quickly devolving into madness. Political corruption has turned into violence. Inflation has made currency worthless and basics needed for survival impossible to find. What is available is quickly snatched up and sold on the black market. People are arrested and disappear, leaving their families to wonder if they are still alive. Soon after her mother’s funeral, Adelaida goes out one day to buy food only to return to her apartment to find it overtaken by squatters hoarding supplies. In a strange turn of events, Adelaida finds an unexpected place to shelter nearby and an opportunity opens up before her.

There is a lot of tension in this book and the author does well at evoking a feeling of constant danger. We understand quickly how tenuous any person’s safety has become and just how alone Adelaida truly is now in a city at the brink of destruction. The book’s blurb describes the action as involving a choice that Adelaida is forced to make but it honestly felt like she couldn’t have done much else.

Which is also one of the flaws of the novel. For all its tension, there isn’t a lot that happens to Adelaida. A significant portion of the story in the present consists of her being very quiet in an apartment. It’s tense because she’s in a dangerous situation not because anything is actually happening to her.

The book also devotes some sections to Adelaida’s memories of life as a child with her mother. This serves the dual purpose of showing the reader their relationship and showing the place that Caracas once was. We see a city where people once immigrated for new opportunities, a city of luxuries and simple pleasures. A city we can recognize, making the present setting of anarchy even unsettling. Personally, I would have liked to see and learn more about the city at large. I would have liked to see more of Adelaida outside of the apartment building and in the city of Caracas. This partially stems from my own ignorance of this area of the world and it isn’t necessarily this book’s job to educate me but I did get the sense that the author, who is from Caracas and now lives in Spain, wanted to show the world something of a place she knows well. That said, it has driven me to learn more about Venezuela so it does accomplish that.

It Would Be Night in Caracas first came on my radar after reading Naty’s review at Naty’s Bookshelf. You can check it out here.

16 thoughts on “Book Review: It Would Be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo”

  1. If the place isn’t fully realized, I’m not sure that’s the case of you being uneducated, but of the author not crafting her setting in a meaningful way that adds to the story. Also, the premise of “…her being very quiet in an apartment” sounds so much like the synopsis of Anne Frank’s diary. I wonder if they are similar in any way.

    1. While I definitely think a bit more background info would have helped most readers, I’m always hesitant to put the responsibility of my education on any author but particularly ones writing from a non-European/North American perspective. It’s a bit of a tricky balance as to how much an author can expect her audience to know. I didn’t think of Anne Frank while reading this but they do sound similar when you put it like that! I wouldn’t say they felt similar though.

  2. I frequently struggle with writing from South and Central America because I know so little of their history, so don’t understand the background. As you say, it’s not the author’s job to educate us, especially if they’re writing primarily for a domestic audience, but I often think that translated fiction should have a brief introduction giving foreign readers any necessary info that the book doesn’t explicitly cover. Still, there’s always Google, I suppose…

    1. I tend to agree with you. As for as I can tell this book was simultaneously published in multiple languages so was arguably written (or at least published) for an international audience. So some more background information would have been helpful. I’m just always hesitant to ask for that because I don’t expect that from a book set in London or New York, even though I haven’t been to either of those places.

    2. Yes, that’s a good point. I wonder if all of us English-speakers kinda share a common history and culture so that we feel, rightly or wrongly, as if we instinctively understand each other’s societies? I’d never look for an explanatory intro in a Canadian or Australian book either. Mind you, I do find America totally baffling sometimes… 😉

    3. That’s probably really true. In Canada we’re so immersed in Western European history and culture that I have no trouble figuring out books from there. Other parts of the world bring in a whole new context of history and culture that’s often new to me.

  3. Ok first of all, why would any author, in the history of books, give two important characters the same name? Why? That’s so unnecessarily confusing/irritating for the reader. honestly, as soon as you wrote that I knew I would hate this book and never read it LOL

    1. Haha, this book would definitely not be for you then! I didn’t mind it so much because it felt like a deliberate choice to show how the narrator’s and her mother’s lives were so tied up with each other that when her mother died it’s like she loses a part of her own life. And because the mother dies before the book begins, it didn’t ever get too confusing. What confused me more was that there is another character named Aurora who has some similarities to the narrator and it was hard for me to keep those two sorted. I swear there’s even a sentence where the author uses the wrong name!

  4. Great review! I’ve got this one on my TBR but have not seen very many reviews for it- it’s nice to get a balanced take before diving in. I do tend to become impatient when there’s not much going on with the plot, so I appreciate the warning that not much is happening to the MC, but it sounds like I’ll still learn about Venezuela while reading, which was a big part of the draw for me.

    1. Thank you! That was a big part of why I decided to read it too – simply to learn more about Venezuela. While it didn’t outline the history or anything, it did make me interested to learn more which is a good thing! I think you would find it an interesting read too.

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