Los Angeles Times on Biting Silence

Now in Paperback
September 27, 1987

Biting Silence, Arturo Von Vacano (Avon Books: $6.95). "If you hold to your truth, you must speak
it," the Bolivian captor tells our battered narrator just before his release, "although speaking it costs
you your neck." Concerned about supporting his children and weary of the vanity and paranoia of
politics, the narrator realizes that "biting silence" is obviously wisest. It is not, however, emotionally
expedient, for without the drive of writing, he is pulled down by his rage at the people who run
Bolivian society, where "the routine is so routine, stupidity so stupid, so deadly, hope so hopeless,
opportunities so lacking." The guilty aren't the slick, smirking military officers we might expect in a
novel about a Third World country, but "armchair militiamen who . . . steal with silk gloves." They
are unquestioning bureaucrats such as Leo, who drives someone else's car with official plates, but
who owns a home "built by nearly destroying a hospital: A state hospital, of course."
Predictably, these bureaucrats see all dissidents as threats to personal wealth, and so our narrator
finds himself frequently repeating, "I have not been, am not now, and will not be a Communist. My
problem is how to feed my people. How in the hell to feed them. Feed them." While ignorant and
thus destructive, the Bolivian leaders fictionalized here are not senselessly malevolent--many have,
in fact, a sure sense of humor. Yet Von Vacano's goal isn't to entertain us; presumably afraid that
his message about the ramshackle state of Bolivian society would be lost in a complex narrative in
the model of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he keeps the plot simple and the sentences staccato. In so
doing, one surmises, he was too direct, for while he was careful never to explicitly name leaders
("This is fiction. It has to be fiction. I am fiction"), Bolivia's leaders felt sufficiently threatened to burn
all Spanish-language copies of this book when it first appeared in 1980.

Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times
Bolivia 1980