Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Bob Van Laerhoven is the type of author whose works tend to defy traditional classification, more often than not merging elements from a number of different genres. In Alejandro’s Lie he tells a story part Noir, part historical fiction, and part human drama, following the story of the titular Alejandro, a broken musician desperately searching for meaning while living in a fictitious South-American dictatorship.
Table of contents
Bob Van Laerhoven Visits a Dictatorship
Our history books are fraught with accounts of totalitarian regimes, and the for the majority of us, they seem like a fictitious tale from a long-gone past, one we can’t even begin to imagine experiencing ourselves. Unfortunately, knowing little about such regimes doesn’t force them into nonexistence, and for millions around the globe it’s a daily reality they face, as does the protagonist in Alejandro’s Lie by Bob Van Laerhoven.
The story takes us to the early 1980s to a fictitious Terranean dictatorship in South America, ruled by General Pelaron and his junta. Though there are revolutionary sentiments in the air, the General’s grip on the country is fairly strong, not to mention the fact the military are on his side, as are prominent allies from abroad, chief among them the United States of America.
In the midst of this turbulent climate we make the acquaintance of the titular Alejandro Juron, a guitarist and former member of a band whose vocalist died as a hero of the people. Broken by the years of torture he was made to endure at the hands of Pelaron’s government, Alejandro shambles through the grey days of his life, yearning for some form of meaning, something to bring him back into the land of the living.
This something comes in the form of Beatriz, a young woman whom he helps escape from the army during their repression of yet another demonstration. Finding in her the fire which had died in him so long ago, he can’t help himself but follow her on the kind of mission which might just make his life worth living again: to take down Pelaron and bring true democracy to the country.
Naturally, she doesn’t plan on doing it alone, recruiting Alejandro to a secret resistance group, one where he finally finds a place where he can fit into this world, even if temporarily. However, their dreams of a better tomorrow might ultimately be just childish fantasies: what can a few people even hope to accomplish in the face of an evil so overwhelming and all-consuming? After all, they’re no heroes… only people.
The Coward’s Path in Alejandro’s Lie
Even though different authors all write their characters in their own ways, we, as readers, have come to develop certain expectations in regards to our protagonists. No matter how they might start out, we expect them to eventually overcome the challenges in front of them, to rise above the level of the average person, to develop a sense of courage and, ultimately, do whatever it takes for complete triumph to be achieved.
Let’s face it though: the majority of us wouldn’t be able to fill the shoes of even half the protagonists we read about, most of them ready to risk life and limb with daring gusto… and there is nothing wrong with that. Without heroes, we wouldn’t have such memorable stories gracing our collective library. Alejandro Juron, however, is essentially the opposite of what we’ve come to expect from our protagonists.
First and foremost, we quickly get the sense he is a broken man through and through by experiences which slowly get unravelled for us over the course of the book. He isn’t the kind of person one would call courageous… as a matter of fact, there are numerous sequences in Alejandro’s Lie where he proves beyond a doubt his cowardly nature, electing to flee from evil and hide behind others rather than confronting it.
So what exactly is the appeal of following the adventures of such a protagonist? For starters, his attitude (which can best be described as a mixture of fearful and nonchalant) isn’t simply the result of the person he was born as, but more than anything, of the psychological scars General Pelaron’s regime inflicted on him. Through his story, we learn how people can be realistically and permanently broken by their exposure to the evil that Men do.
Additionally, as I said at the start of this section, most of us aren’t heroes and, realistically-speaking, would wimp out when faced with tremendous, life-threatening danger. Alejandro is a mirror of the average person, a demonstration of just how difficult, and sometimes ridiculous it is to stand up against evil. Through him, we get to witness just how unrealistic it is for the average person to play the hero against overwhelming odds.
The Tragedy of Resistance
The colours which mark Alejandro’s path aren’t his alone, seemingly spreading to all those who come into contact with him, namely the other members of the resistance. As much as Alejandro’s Lie is a story about the protagonist’s search for meaning in world which has turned utterly meaningless for him, it’s also the story about the people surrounding him and their efforts to put an end to Pelaron’s rule.
The various members of the small organization are each quite distinct in their personalities, and we become intimately acquainted with them as the story unfolds. Just like Alejandro, they are regular people with limited capabilities who dream of a better and brighter tomorrow, people who are severely outmatched by their common enemy.
Speaking of the enemy, General Pelaron is more talked about than actually seen in the book, his presence permeating through every page, his mere existence serving as the invisible guide to the characters’ decisions. He quickly takes on a larger-than-life quality (in stark contrast to his physical appearance), standing as a decadent monolith to the oppressive terror tyrants strike into the hearts of their subjects. Bob Van Laerhoven also adds some poignant political commentary surrounding Pelaron’s rise to power and his appearance abroad, which I think is completely valid and warranted.
By learning their motivations for doing what they do, we also get some rather brutal glimpses into the bloodthirsty tactics employed by the regime they’re fighting against. Inevitably, this leads us to sharing their collective point of view, making it quite impossible not to root for them to succeed against all odds. Naturally, when we begin rooting for them, we also start to feel a certain concern for their ultimate fates.
Though they might seem relatively incapable, the group does find creative ways of fighting back against tyranny, and there are even a few action scenes described in such vivid detail the images have become permanently ingrained in my mind. In the end though, the paths of numerous characters end tragically and realistically, and without spoiling anything, the conclusion is the definition itself of bittersweet.
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The Final Verdict
Alejandro’s Lie by Bob Van Laerhoven is a remarkable work of literary fiction, taking us along for a brutally realistic, emotional and educative ride among a group of regular people who have taken up the hopeless task of rising up against an authoritarian regime. Mixing drama, comedy and tragedy all together, it stands out as a truly unique novel with few peers to even consider.
If you’re yearning to read a captivating and realistically-written novel about a broken man’s search for himself in an impossible struggle against a seemingly-indomitable evil, then I highly recommend you add this book to your collection.
Bob van Laerhoven
Bob van Laerhoven is a Flemish author whose 30+ novels have been published in Belgium, France, Canada and The Netherlands. His 2007 novel Baudelaire’s Revenge was the winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for the best crime novel of the year.