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The Matter of Desire: A Novel

"One of the most important [Latin American] writers of the new generation." — Mario Vargas Llosa

[A] captivating, well-written thriller." — Críticas

"A tale of equivocal heroes, treacherous revolutionaries, and rejected love . . . evokes a gritty urban milieu permeated by pop culture and technology." — Kirkus Reviews

About the Book

Edmundo Paz Soldán is one of today's hottest Latino writers. His novels and story collections, published in Spanish to great acclaim around the world, have won accolades, including the National Book Award in his native Bolivia, and he has become a leading spokesman for the gritty urban and pop culture – influenced Latin literary movement known as McOndo. This April, Houghton Mifflin is proud to bring Paz Soldán's extraordinary work to English-speaking audiences for the first time with the publication of his novel The Matter of Desire as a Mariner Original paperback.

Currently based in the United States, where he teaches at Cornell, Paz Soldán draws on the intricate relationship between Latin America and the United States to create an erotically charged tale of political intrigue, private mystery, and dangerous, all-consuming love. The Matter of Desire is the story of Pedro, a young Bolivian political scientist who becomes involved in a torrid affair with Ashley, one of his students at a university in upstate New York. When their obsessive passion threatens to cost him his job and reputation, Pedro returns to Bolivia to solve the mystery surrounding the death of his father, a writer and political revolutionary killed in a shootout with police two decades earlier.

Feeling his own life coming unmoored, Pedro hopes to find an anchor by discovering the truth about his father, also named Pedro, whose slaying caused him to become an icon of the Latin American left. Assisted by his uncle David, the only survivor of the massacre that killed his father, by his father's famous — and cryptic — revolutionary novel Berkeley, and by a local drug lord, who knew his father in his youth, Pedro soon uncovers a dense web of deception and unreality that explodes every truth he has ever known about his country, his family, and himself.

Caught between North and South America — between the dictates of modern society and the political ideals of the sixties and seventies, the cold sex appeal of Ashley and the loving pull of Carolina, a childhood love from Bolivia, between his own murky past and an uncertain future — Pedro embodies the complexities of finding an identity in a world where fixed ideas of culture, politics, technology, and even love have blurred and bled together in new, barely recognizable variations.

From The Matter of Desire

Here, in this plaza full of retirees on benches and pigeons surrounding the shoe shiners, a couple of people were killed in April when an army captain fired on a group of defenseless demonstrators. He (Robinson is his name) wasn't even forced into early retirement. Ten people were killed in Cochabamba, a few more in La Paz. Every now and then the country wakes up; every now and then a group says that's enough, that such poverty, such injustice, such corruption can't go on. The government quickly looks for answers, but the underlying problems are never solved; they're only postponed for a future occasion when the people's patience again runs out (the government trusts there will always be a bit more patience and resignation). There will be other protests, other demonstrations, other deaths. The dizzying, chaotic wheel on which the country turns doesn't stop, cannot be stopped, will never stop.

This isn't my city anymore. I'm a stranger, a foreigner here. It escaped my grasp and left me behind, moved on without me towards its splendorous and unfortunate future . . . Like a mirage that continually moves away on the horizon, Río Fugitivo comes within reach but then always drifts away. I push the city away, afraid as I am to return to it. Or maybe the city I want to return to no longer exists — I left it behind the day I first went away . . .

This city isn't mine anymore, and wearing the headphones of my Nomad I feel protected. Still, there's an unmistakable smell in the air — a mixture of food (roasting pollo al spiedo, chola sandwiches) and carbon monoxide from the ancient buses — and a particular shade of blue in the sky. I recognize these as being part of what was mine, of what, imperfect and all, might still be my real home. I want to give myself over to them, merge completely with them. But that only lasts a few minutes, and I quickly emerge unsatisfied from my utopian dreams of fulfillment.

Six blocks from the cathedral in a small, unkempt plaza is a statue of Dad. Even though I hadn't headed in that direction, my predictable steps lead me there. I walk around it, shoo the pigeons away, turn off the Nomad. Dad is standing on a pedestal, looking steadfastly towards the future; someone has left roses at his feet. He could easily be mistaken for a patrician founder of states. The stone doesn't shine the way it did more than fifteen years ago, when a well-intentioned president inaugurated the statue in homage to one of the best-known heroes in the long struggle to regain democracy. I look at Dad and look at him again. I wish the stone could talk, so it could tell me what I yearn to hear.

Silence. The pigeons soon forget their fear and return to reclaim their lost territory.

I turn on the Nomad. Ashley liked to make love with "They Might Be Giants" on at full volume in the room.

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