Una nouvelle de Ricardo Azuaje / María Celina Núñez

A Novella by Ricardo Azuaje

Ricardo Azuaje (Altagracia de Orituco, Venezuela, 1959) is a writer of great talents, something the reader can confirm by looking at his interesting bibliography. Between 1986 and 2000 he kept a very high profile. Today he publishes interesting texts of fiction and opinion at his Facebook page.

I would like to speak about Juana la Roja y Octavio el Sabrio (Fundarte, 1992), a very well-written novella that addresses problematic realities basing itself fundamentally on the masterful creation of the protagonists.

When the book begins, Octavio is a young man who is starting his university studies and is in the process of developing a relationship with a girl his own age. Everything seems to be in perfect order until, after years of absence, he runs into his mother by chance. From that point onwards, the image of Juana makes itself present.

After the encounter at Octavio’s house, the main setting for this novel, the actions acquires an urgent pace. The mother and son living together will lead to a domestic clash but, above all, it will undo the connection that has kept a feeling at bay: Juana’s presence will awaken in her son a path of unexpected initiation.

The narrative fluctuates between the past and the present. The central plot revolves around the impossible love between both characters: Juana doesn’t accept being called a mother and Octavio considers her too erratic to see her as an authority figure. In this conflicted tie there is an affection that constantly nears desire but is never consummated. It is also a tragic love: once Octavio manages to become closer to his mother, he will lose her forever.

In order to shape the tale, Azuaje wisely chooses a second person narration. In this way he expresses the perennial desire for access to the other which is what gives an agonizing pulse to the main character and to the text in general.

However, this isn’t the only agony. Juana, in her own life, is committed to a struggle which she eventually questions, despite her passion. Her political commitment is framed by the guerrilla insurgencies of the 1980s, when utopias no longer enjoy the solidity of the past and hope has already been extensively undermined by historical events.

The author appeals to binary images to display the textual reality: Juana and Octavio represent inverted roles, both at the level of political ideology and lifestyle, as well as on a more intimate plane, due to the confusion regarding who might hold the authority in this curious relationship.

On the base of these permanent contrasts, Ricardo Azuaje achieves one of the greatest virtues of the novella form: a texture of constant suggestion, the emergence of a subtle possibility against a backdrop of what appears to be a plain reality. Thanks to these elements, sometimes evident, other times distant, the story acquires multiple connotations. The chosen aesthetic resource is the second person narration that occasionally “confuses” the object of the discourse: from the mother to the girlfriend and vice versa. To the point that the character of the girlfriend progressively loses textual space to the presence of Juana, each time more eroticized.

From the moment Juana enters the life and home of Octavio, he beings a series of recriminations that will continue to change his initial rejection of his mother. In fact, Octavio lives a very complex process of initiation because it happens almost in parallel to his relationships with his mother and his girlfriend. The sensuality acquires an Oedipal character almost from the first page: “she stands at the door with her arms open and says come here.” This image recurs in the text and synthesizes, symbolizes the relationship between them: embrace and goodbye, desire nearly consummated, definitive goodbye and a kiss on the lips on the highway before Juana disappears forever. The author created a very sober text that successfully avoids the pitfalls of melodrama.

Alongside this intimate story, we are presented a portrait of Caracas. To speak of Caracas in the 1980s is to portray a city wounded by the construction work for the Metro, crowded by a series of devices that congest it despite the fact they intend to do the opposite. It’s also about the drawing of a key era for my generation that is, I wouldd say, the same one Azuaje belongs to. In the 1980s the ideological struggles were receding (I thought they were finished) and it is in that frame that Juana’s struggle takes place. Her son is the first to point out this gap. This portrait of an era is completed with the articulation of the fiction with an episode of extra-textual reality: Juana will die in the massacre that took place in Cantaura in 1982.

The handling of private space, the house, by the protagonists provides the key of opposite personalities and the evolution of the relationship. The order and objects of Octavio will be linked to that other mode of order that is Juana’s and with another type of objects and cultural references: Octavio is wise and sober, “Sabrio,” and Juana is a hippie, “Loca.”

Private space is so important it could eliminate any other scene. Because of that the city, the marks of its possible routes, appear in the background as complementary resources that have an effect on the verisimilitude of what’s being told. On the other hand, the story that occurs in that public space isn’t disposable; on the contrary, it defines the end of the novella.

But definitely, if anything has a great deal of specific weight in this brief novel it is the presence of desire. Octavio, apparently a more or less cerebral, logical being, is prey to desire. In this manner, the always-closed door to his mother’s room is perceived as a prohibition.

There is a subtle lyricism throughout the book. With only a few metaphors that are barely removed from colloquial speech, and the use of a free indirect style, an impossible love story between mother and son is constructed; and also that of an era full of impossibles: What else do we call a time without utopias (and there are the victims to prove it)?; and, finally, of the human condition. This is how Juana “plagiarizes” the poem “Defeat” by Rafael Cadenas.

Octavio can’t recover Juana as his mother, he can’t let himself be taken by that other feeling that unites them, nor can he live ignoring that other world as he proposed for himself at the beginning of the book.

In the end, Juana and Octavio lose their nicknames of “Loca” and “Sabrio.” And the reader closes these pages with a sadness that captivates her, undoubtedly, and is yet more proof, certainly not the only one, of the talent and literary complexity of Ricardo Azuaje.

Today’s article is an invitation to read Ricardo Azuaje. Don’t miss out on that pleasure.

{ María Celina Núñez, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 26 June 2015 }

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