Affections: A Novel – Rodrigo Hasbún , Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

(Reviewed by JD Jung)


Affections is an intriguing work of historical fiction based on true events following the once- close Ertl family. Hans, the patriarch, was a Nazi propaganda cinematographer, and the family fled Munich and arrived in La Paz, Bolivia in 1955 to start a new life.

Hans, who was also a mountaineer in Germany, set out on an ill-conceived expedition through the Amazon rainforest to find the lost city of Paititi. This is where the story begins. Two of the daughters, Monika and Heidi accompany him, and learn a lot about their father during this time. What occurs during this trip explains a lot about Han’s motives and personal character.

The story, which expands decades, doesn’t stop there, though. Each chapter is from the perspective of one of the three daughters, with a few other perspectives sprinkled in. Each daughter has her own issues. The eldest, Monika suffered from constant panic attacks as a teenager and later married a man she didn’t love. Her story culminates with her involvement in Che Guevara’s National Liberation Army.

The middle daughter, Heidi, always felt that she lived in Monika’s shadow and doesn’t feel as comfortable in Bolivia. Trixi, the youngest and closest one to their mother, forgoes much of her own happiness, and keeps trying to bring this estranged family together.

Affections is a dark but rich story about personal and family turmoil as each member tries to find their own place in their new world. Author Rodrigo Hasbún keeps the reader in suspense throughout the entire story; personally, I was hooked at every page. In fact, each incident kept lingering in my mind. The cool, detached tone adds to the story, as well as the vivid landscape and complex characters. Even though the book is a slim 145 pages, I didn’t find any element lacking.

This intense novel is a must-read and literary gem.

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