Celebrated Ecuadorian author Gabriela Alemán's first book in English toasted at BookExpo
Gabriela Alemán’s first work to appear in English, a noirish thriller/satire entitled Poso Wells that concerns a feminist heroine opposite political corruption and greedy land speculators, is set for publication July 15 from City Lights Publishers. The celebrated Ecuadorian author made an appearance Thursday at City Lights’ BookExpo America exhibitor’s booth, where she poured stiff shots of potent Ecuadorian liquor Zhumir Latin Spirit for prospective retailers and at least one trade journalist.
As for Poso Wells, the American Booksellers Association’s Summer/Fall 2018 Indies Introduce program, which showcases undiscovered authors and compelling books sold by independent booksellers, has included it among its 10 adult debut author picks. Kirkus Reviews has called it “one part Thomas Pynchon, one part Gabriel García Marquez, and one part Raymond Chandler, [containing] mystery, horror, humor, absurdity, and political commentary [and is] a concoction of political thriller and absurdist literary mystery that never fails to entertain.”
“It’s been called an eco-feminist thriller!” said Alemán, warming to the subject after warming to the Zhumir.
“Does that make you an eco-feminist?” she was asked by the trade journalist.
“Apparently!” she answered, laughing. “At least, that’s what the translator said!”
While Poso Wells is her first book to be translated into English, it is among eight books Alemán has written, and is actually 10 years old. The title derives from an H.G. Wells short story, “The Country of the Blind,” first published in 1904, about a mountaineer in Ecuador who slips and falls down a mountain, only to discover the isolated Country of the Blind, for generations inhabited by blind people who can’t even comprehend the mountaineer’s description of sight.
Alemán’s novel likewise takes place in a fictitious setting—the squalid settlement of Poso Wells, where women have been regularly disappearing with little reaction from the authorities.
After the leading presidential candidate comes to town and dies in a bizarre accident, a principled journalist investigates, finding both a violent underworld and a strange group of almost supernatural blind men. Meanwhile, a fearless local woman, ignoring death threats, uncovers a connection between the inexplicable disappearance of the man who is next in line for the presidency and the missing women—and a multinational corporation plan to pillage the country’s cloud forest.
Alemán said that Poso Wells takes place partly in the Intag cloud forest in northwestern Ecuador’s remote and mineral-rich Intag region on the western slopes of the Andes Mountains.
“It’s one of the 10 ecological hot spots in world,” said Alemán of one of the most biodiverse places on earth.
“Around 15 years ago they discovered one of the biggest deposits of copper and gold, and a German company and Japanese company tried to mine it, and in 2006, a Canadian company.”
These foreign forays into the Intag threatened displacement of communities, massive deforestation, desertification, river contamination, and harm to endangered species--and engendered stiff local opposition.
International mining, then, is the major subplot of Poso Wells, along with Ecuador’s “horrible politics and class differences,” said Alemán. “But it’s all done with dark humor and satire.”
Not so humorous, perhaps, but definitely dark, was her observation that 10 years ago, while Ecuador and its politics were strictly Third World in comparison with the First World United States, today, at least in terms of political leadership, the U.S. is now Third World, too.
And then the author was off to a friend’s to watch the first game of the NBA finals. Herself a former professional basketball player, Alemán, although a LeBron James fan, was rooting for Golden State because of its inspired team play.