Reggaetón Cruise: a Dynamic Photomosaic of the Globalized World
by Juan David Castilla
Jeff Bezos flying a Dutch teenager to space, Apple storing iCloud data on Kremlin local servers, intercontinental love affairs via augmented reality, top grossing American movies fully financed by China, Mozambican terrorists communicating trough WhatsApp, 3D printed prosthetic limbs shipped to El Salvador from Madrid… How can one get a sense of all the ramifications and implications produced by our ever-changing globalized world? Reggaetón Cruise, the new novel by Patricio X. Maya, author of the well-received essay collection Walking around with Fante and Bukowski among other books, accomplishes this ingeniously by getting readers to navigate the multiple labyrinths of the contemporary world through characters who succeed in staying afloat or sink in the modern turmoil.
Maya’s narrative dexterity lies in the intuitive and subtle enmeshing of multiple characters’ viewpoints while simultaneously moving the story forward. Each branching out sub-story keeps the reader guessing how its disparate characters will eventually find each other. How will such divergent worlds intersect? These intertwined tales of globalization present us with our own inevitable connection to the entire world and demonstrate that there’s really no way to escape the grid anymore. In order to do this truthfully, the author breaks from standard narrative norms and employs unorthodox communicative tools and linguistic artifacts that, paradoxically, guide us smoothly through the obscure hallways of today’s Tower of Babel. A luminous loyalty to language, which avoids relying on mechanical linguistic renditions (be it in Spanish, Quechua, Estonian, Liberian English, Japanese, or others) that would betray the essence of each story line is displayed throughout. One clear example of this kind of “translation” (or transmutation into English) happens when Delfin’s father, Yuyay Quishpe, dies and his family shares insights about his character: “Our beautiful taita's thoughts belonged to the paramo, not to other men, not even to us…”. One can hear both Spanish and Quechua sustaining or illuminating the English words.
The parallel narration of the two main characters is done gradually without attempting to create immediate connections or vapid assumptions on the plot. The plot lines remain enigmatic; up until the last page the reader is kept guessing how the life of a rural boy from the Chimborazo province in Ecuador will cross lines with a war-videogame-superstar-gone-US-military-drone-pilot from Estonia. How does Delfín Quishpe, an indigenous teen with no connections to the developed world, end up becoming a global internet celebrity? How does Artjom Pärn, a chubby suburban boy from Tallinn, Estonia, turn into a key player in world policing? Moreover, how do two peripheral underdogs become world saviors? Ultimately, the convergence between Artjom Pärn and Delfín Quishpe can only become a reality due to the power and reach of the internet and specially to one website: Youtube.
The depiction of Delfín’s indigenous community, its rituals, cosmology and language is traced with great sensibility by Maya. He employs a series of Quechua words and phrases to illustrate and establish them as leitmotifs for Delfín’s inner speech. As Delfín shares his words with us, we grow closer to him with every new obstacle that he overcomes. The Quechuan elements – symbols, signs, words, and prayers— become essential during the most critical moments of his journey. They are more powerful for him than any word in Spanish could ever be. Similarly, videogame chatrooms are Artjom’s main form of communication and it is only through these that the reader can grasp several layers of his personality. Artjom's emoticons and abbreviated chat messages convey an enormous amount of information in terms of character and story. After a war videogame victory, for instance, Artjom, who goes by $doomMetalBo, replies on the chatroom to his defeated and enraged opponent with a Kaomoji emoticon (arrangements of Japanese, Latin, and modern punctuation marks to form an expression) and through this abstract discussion we learn much about his emerging Machiavellian character: “Same shit T-Rex500 did to u ┬┴┬┴┤(･_├┬┴┬┴ ” $doomMetalBo posts after backstabbing his “friend.” Fidelity to the character’s teen-gamer world is accomplished in such daring narrative patterns.
There comes a moment for Delfín when his life in the rural Andes (away from the opportunities provided by Western progress) falls short. But how can this South American migrant accomplish his goal of reaching one of great capitals of the world? In this Tom-Sawyer-meets-Enders-Game novel, a series of road adventures are intertwined with technology and the effects of globalization. Truthful to the realities of the current world, the author doesn’t steer away from the sacrifices that crossing the US border demands and instead describes with rawness the environment and the lives of immigrants who are unlikely to reach their desired destination. As Twain uses the Mississippi to take his hero along, Maya uses the Pan-American Highway and the Río Lempa for Delfín’s odyssey.
The severity and cruelty that this quest entails is much more complicated for Delfín because of his background. His intrepidity is tested to the limit when he is confronted with "coyotes," migrant caravans and police patrols reminding him how different he is and how inferior others consider him to be due to his ethnicity. In their eyes, an "indio" like Delfín doesn’t deserve to reach out for the American dream. A group of Central American migrants see themselves reflected in Delfín. He reminds them of their past, which they are reluctant to face. Even being aware of the extreme dangers that entail disclosing his real identity, Delfín cannot help revealing who he is. What makes Delfín’s quest unique is how he overcomes obstacles and succeeds as a true Quechua. This honesty will in turn impact those around him as the story branches out. The reader will witness and understand the outcome as years go by in the novel and Delfín’s influence comes to fruition.
From the ruthless world of Delfín, marked not only by the triumphs of migration but also by the trauma of cosmopolitanization, the novel's intricate narrative transitions to the chic world of affluent Japanese sisters. Maya doesn’t disappoint the reader in truthfully depicting Japanese culture, particularly the dynamics between the Furukawa sisters and their parents, but also between their "foreign" boyfriends: Mamadú, a Liberian real estate agent with a traumatic past and Alvo, a frustrated former professional tennis player from Guayaquil. During an emergency road trip across the US, Alvo and Mamadú face off each other in a series of discussions which question their origins, their dreams, the nature of their identities, and the problematic parallels between Africa and Latin America (particularly in terms of precariousness, autocracy, and world soccer). Their confessions become violent collisions as both men come from opposing social classes, but ultimately draw them closer together, making them realize how, in America, they are pieces of the same game, or as Maya labels them, "pawns in the greater structure of globalization.”
The ending of the novel is a shock and a provocation, not only because of what and how it happens, but also because of how brightly everything comes together at once. Patricio X. Maya's Reggaetón Cruise is like a vast puzzle that first displays numerous little pieces on the table and then brings them together deftly. A sharp image of our times is apparent at last: the autonomous little pieces have become essential to one another and like in Dali’s photomosaic of Lincoln, we can only see the whole picture once it’s all formed and its tragedies and triumphs have settled.