La sinfonía de la destrucción by Pedro Novoa

La sinfonía de la destrucción. Pedro Novoa. Lima: Planeta. 2017. 222 pages.

The latest novel by Peruvian author Pedro Novoa addresses one of the recurring motifs of his style: the noises of the street. Novoa’s stylistic polish was already on display in Seis metros de soga (Altazor, 2010), Maestra vida (Alfaguara, 2012), and Tu mitad animal (Fondo UCV, 2014): books that, along with this fourth offering, form a formidable urban portrait of intertextual echoes.

Novoa always uses fragmented narration, meant to be heard and seen more than merely read. His intention is to transform the chaotic hustle and bustle of the street into a fateful symphony whose chords allow the reader’s auditory and visual senses to conspire. Everything seems to be heard and seen within close quarters. Novoa’s good hearing and good sight bring us into dialogues, with all their colloquial subtleties and turns, with their jargon and distinct flavor, as well as their colors and stranger flavors. This manner of speaking is a pictorial and acoustic tool intended to configure the always abrupt and surly psychology of the characters. For example, when attention shifts to the theme of violence (very frequently in the novel), not only are the actions hard and even brutal, but also the use of language is transformed into a vehicle of aggression and a constant confrontation. However, this text’s tour de force is its addition of doses of humor and tenderness to this spasmodic hymn. This more than humanizes the human fauna that proceed through its pages, constituting a victory in light of the moral and physical destruction of the environment surrounding it. Like the collapse of the Monarch’s (the protagonist’s) dysfunctional family, this parallels the collapse of other characters and an earthquake that destroys Lima, specifically the Rímac district, in a near future.

The novel utilizes contemporary elements of the virtual world (the use of social networks, laptops, mail and its offices) and intends to be a mental alert of the human condition that has been dragged along the ground, where political and ethical values become blurred. There is a pessimistic darkness that seems to float in the fierce criticism of the modern man, shrunken by his shallow ethics and flat emotions. There is no way of singing for the large majority of men and women who move about as zombified versions of themselves, shells without dignity that, more than connecting, collide with one another. But there is a key to this sinister allegory of collapse and ruin: happiness. Laughter and affection are elements of redemption. More than alleviate the tearing apart of personal morals, the characters are healed without the necessity of being saved from their lamentable end. Just like Céline’s Viaje al fin de la noche, La sinfonia de la destrucción has a secret inflexion point that, in some form, transforms the course demise of the characters into crucial victories.

For example, the narrator, Mister Floro, a character who is half accomplice to and half witness of the protagonist, tells us the story of his friend, but also his own. He finds redemption in his attachment to literature. It is he who, bound to biblical citations, orchestrates his own symphony of destruction, but due to literature, he aims toward written posterity.

Another character is the protagonist, the Monarch, a spoiled mathematics prodigy who oddly finds himself in the act of telling his story to his friend, sharing his reality and reading his own forlorn and contradictory life, seemingly a form of healing without salvation. Although within a textual register like a book, this is an expression closer to memory: “What times, droguer, what desires to repeat this film for only a few seconds. And here now, already some guys, smoking more and living less, carajo, remembering that we want to live again, so heavy and so chuchas, compadre…”

The Specialist is one of the vilest characters of the novel. A phony social fighter, seditious ex-headhunter, and apologetic subversive who changes his political speech to comfortable capitalistic platitudes, he is shuffled by a pedophilic drive that tears him apart throughout the novel. However, returning to his mother’s womb, through an image of immersion in a toilet, awards him a painful act of repentance. His suicide, is almost an act of filial love, of rediscovering the woman who did not love him and who, in spite of everything, continues cradling him as her eternal spoiled baby.

Another character, dirtied by the life that he chose not to live but to endure, is Pepe el Pendejo.  Behind his apparent harshness, he hides a heart full of love for his half-sister, Magnolia, and in her he finds a sort of emotional cleansing. Until the final moment, he insists on this affection and, despite ending up the way he does, one could say that he is one of the characters who loves the most in a novel where love is an elusive emotion, full of suspicion and calculation.

But there are also those characters who start in darkness and end up somewhere much darker, with no way back from their own destruction, like Champosa, the Monarch's stepmother, or Magnolia, Champosa's daughter, who are binary configurations of beings condemned to moral collapse. Another duo on an irreversible route is that of the Alcalde and his lieutenant Chacaltana. A pair of fierce humans who share a strained relationship, but, rather than putting it on track, use it as a starting point to accelerate toward a final upheaval. These characters are killed, and the reading obliges us to feel that they are killed justly, that maybe this decadence and ultimate death is an act almost of mercy, a gesture of simplification and rest.

A special mention goes to the fierce vision of the city, seen as an infectious or vicious entity: “You don’t know Lima; it inoculates you directly in the veins. You endure it or you’re hooked on it, one of the two. Like a prick of heroin, it’s a one-way trip, never to return.” It is curious that an abbreviation of the novel’s title forms the abbreviation of a potent drug: LSD. And this is perhaps the only way to travel into the novel’s fiction: the infectious, where read and comprehend the sights and sounds of the scripted symphony, we begin to become addicted to the dizzying rhythm, to this wave of destruction and monstrous beauty that, like all shocking underworlds, captures and changes us.

Gunter Silva

Translated by Auston Steifer


Other Reviews in this Issue

Antonio Skármeta
Cicatrices y estrellas
La troupe Samsonite
And we were all alive


LALT No. 4
Number 4

The fourth issue of LALT highlights underrepresented but deserving voices from across Latin America, with a focus on women writers as well as special sections dedicated to genre-bending science fiction, indigenous-language poetry and prose, and the essential relationship between author and translator.

Table of Contents

Editor's Note


Short Fiction from Peru


Translation Previews and New Releases



Latin American Science Fiction

Indigenous Literature

Dossier: Five Women Writers in Translation


Dossier: Colombian Poetry

Nota Bene