Red April

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"Red April evokes Holy Week during a cruel, bloody, and terrifying time in Peru's history, shocking for its corrosive mix of assassination, bribery, intrigue, torture, and enforced disappearance - a war between grim, ideologically driven terrorism and morally bankrupt government counterinsurgency." Mother-haunted, wife-abandoned, literature-loving, quietly eccentric Felix Chacalrana Saldivar is a hapless, by-the-book, unambitious prosecutor living in Lima. Until now he has lived a life in which nothing exceptionally good or bad has ever happened

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Red April: A Novel

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"Red April evokes Holy Week during a cruel, bloody, and terrifying time in Peru's history, shocking for its corrosive mix of assassination, bribery, intrigue, torture, and enforced disappearance - a war between grim, ideologically driven terrorism and morally bankrupt government counterinsurgency." Mother-haunted, wife-abandoned, literature-loving, quietly eccentric Felix Chacalrana Saldivar is a hapless, by-the-book, unambitious prosecutor living in Lima. Until now he has lived a life in which nothing exceptionally good or bad has ever happened to him. But, inexplicably, he has been put in charge of a bizarre and horrible murder investigation. As it unfolds by propulsive twists and turns - full of paradoxes and surprises - Saldivar is compelled to confront what happens to a man and a society when death becomes the only certainty in life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Roncagliolo's stunning debut, about the brutality of Peruvian society under the Fujimori regime, merits comparison to the work of J.M. Coetzee. In 2000, associate district prosecutor Félix Chacaltana Saldívar, who's returned to the province of Ayacucho from Lima, clashes with his superiors after the discovery of a charred and mutilated corpse. Rigidly adhering to bureaucratic procedure, Saldívar demands that an official police report on the crime be filed, despite the active resistance of the police and the local military commander. The prosecutor's refusal to abort his inquiry threatens the official line that the Shining Path terrorists are a thing of the past. Eventually, he's reassigned to help monitor elections, only to encounter more corruption. Within the frame of a puzzling whodunit, Roncagliolo crafts an unsparing view of life controlled by a repressive and paranoid government. A mother fixation, social awkwardness and a desire to impress others lend complexity to the protagonist. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Because it lies between Cuzco, the Inca capital, and Lima, the capital of the Spaniards, and was the ancient home of the Chancas, who successfully fought off even the Incas, the Peruvian city of Ayacucho is said to be doomed to wallow in blood forever. This was true especially during the 1980s and 1990s, when indiscriminate slaughter by the Shining Path brought on the equally savage counterinsurgency of the Fujimori government. Soon after district prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar is transferred from Lima to Ayacucho, he grimly undertakes to investigate the case of a charred body discovered in a hayloft during Holy Week of 2000. The unambitious prosecutor gets sucked into a chaotic world far from the ordered words and numbered sentences of his legal codes and breaks down, unable to fathom the illogic of killers fighting killers in a continuous spiral of fire and blood. Roncagliolo, the youngest winner ever of the prestigious Alfaguara Prize for this novel, first published in 2006, offers a riveting and highly relevant tale of the vicious circle of terrorism and retaliation.
—Jack Shreve

Kirkus Reviews
A latter-day Candide gets a crash course in Peruvian terrorism and counter-terrorism in Roncagliolo's precocious debut, winner of the 2006 Alfaguara Prize. Though he's spent most of his fledgling career in Lima, Felix Chacaltana Sald'var is back in his birthplace in Ayacucho as an associate district prosecutor when he's called on to take charge of an unspeakable murder. The unidentifiable body, discovered on Ash Wednesday 2000 as the village is just coming off a three-day pre-Lenten bender, has suffered the loss of an arm and has been doused with accelerant and reduced nearly to ashes itself. Armed with an Olivetti typewriter and a manual of procedure, Chacaltana makes the rounds of the local citizens. But no one, of course, knows anything, and Captain Pacheco, of the local police, alternately toys with Chacaltana and impedes his investigation. Only silver-toothed waitress Edith Ayala shows the slightest concern for Chacaltana, and that's by serving him meals he never eats. At length he ignores the obvious evidence that Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, was behind the assassination and instead writes a ludicrously improbable report that endorses the view of Commander Carri-n, of the Army of Peru: "In this country there is no terrorism, by orders from the top." As a reward, he's sent as an election observer to the far-off hamlet of Yawarmayo, a hellish landscape where violent Senderistas battle corrupt officials without quarter, trapping naive associate district prosecutors in the middle. As he continues his investigation into the widening circle of violence, Chacaltana can't help but notice that "all the people I talk to die." The case will make a mockery of the detective story'sfoundational convention of individual guilt, leaving its unlikely hero alone to trace the steps of Christ's passion and death as Holy Week leads inexorably to the bleakest Easter imaginable. An angry, despairing dispatch, punctuated with illiterate notes from a killer and equally meaningless reports in bureaucratic doublespeak, from a land torn apart by civil war and official denial. Agent: Anne Edelstein/Anne Edelstein Literary Agency
The Barnes & Noble Review
Certain novels are so potent that they seem to infiltrate not only your brain but also your bloodstream. As you read, the rhythm of your pulse keeps pace with the rhythm of the narrative; the temperature of the characters becomes your temperature. This sensation may be pleasant or chilling -- but in either case, it tends to stay with you after the last page is turned. Red April, an extraordinary work by Peruvian writer Santiago Roncagliolo, produces such symptoms: a mild delirium that heightens our perceptions even as it skews the world around us.

The novel's hero, Associate District Prosecutor Feliz Chacaltana Saldivar, is an unlikely conduit for such potency. He is, after all, a consummate bureaucrat who takes pride in tirelessly writing meticulous reports. The novel opens with one of his best: "On Wednesday, the eighth day of March, 2000, as he passed through the area surrounding his domicile in the locality of Quinua, Junstino Mayta Carazo discovered a body." In exquisitely dry language, Chacaltana describes the burnt torso that is stumbled upon by the drunken "deponent" and observes with satisfaction, as he edits his final draft, that "in his lawyer's heart, a poet struggled to emerge."

We immediately recognize a familiar comic hero: the little man with grandeur in his soul. This meek Chacaltana seems poised to take his place alongside Walter Mitty, Charlie Chaplin, and a host of other refugees from reality. When we meet him, newly transferred from Lima to the Andean city of Ayacucho, he perceives the world with an almost idiotic certainty. "Nothing can change much from one day to the next," he reflects when only yesterday's newspaper is available for purchase. "All days are basically the same." The novel will violently refute this assumption -- but only after Roncagliolo begins to reveal some disturbing aspects of Chacaltana's personality. He admits, for example, that "the corpse in Quinua produced a vague mixture of pride and disquiet in him. It was his first murder in the year he had been back in Ayacucho. It was a sign of progress." During his workday, he becomes concerned that he has not yet checked in on his mother. His dead mother.

Chacaltana, we gradually suspect, is not merely dull but numbed, and within a few pages we see that the world he inhabits is similarly afflicted. The sierra outside the city, for example, is a place where Chacaltana suddenly notices "that he could not hear anything. Not a sound. He felt whistling in his ears, the acoustic illusion produced when there is silence around us. The plain was transmitting the music of death."

This is not poetic exaggeration. Peru in 2000, the period during which the novel is set, remains stunned by the terror of the 1980s and 1990s, when Maoist Shining Path guerillas slaughtered whole communities in the name of their insane mystical ideology and when the government counterinsurgency imposed its own brand of terror. All of that supposedly belongs in the dreadful past. "There is no Sendero Luminoso here anymore," a military commander tells Chacaltana. "We finished them off."

The declaration, however, rings hollow. When Chacaltana is dispatched to oversee presidential elections in a remote town, he finds the streetlights festooned with the bodies of hanged dogs wearing signs that read "This is how traitors die." There are bonfires on the mountainside, nightly attacks, and "howl from the hills. Long Live. The Communist Party of Peru. President Gonzalo. They seemed to grow louder and surround him, suffocate him."

Returning home to a city convulsed by the lurid parades that mark the Catholic festival of Holy Week, the shaken prosecutor is soon faced with another mutilated corpse. "On the left side a mass of bones, muscles, and arteries erupted. What did not erupt was an arm." The pathologist helpfully explains: "The first time it was the right arm, now they've cut off the left. It seems these gentlemen want to make a puppet." When the next victim surfaces, burned and crucified, in the middle of a Holy Week ceremony, the symbolism is terrifyingly clear: here is Andean, Catholic, and Shining Path mysticism intermingled and made charred flesh.

Chacaltana informs his superiors that "they" have returned, and the response from his commander is, "Don't see horses where there are only dogs." Imagination now seems to be the dull prosecutor's chief defect. Indeed, as the horrors mount and as Chacaltana's official reports become absurdist versions of the abominations he encounters, the prosecutor begins to lose his moorings. Roncagliolo conveys this disintegration with great subtlety and acuity. A profoundly compassionate writer, he even allows us to hope. For Chacaltana, in the meantime, has begun to court Edith, a young waitress who is a wonderfully surprising creation. Her presence and the sweetness it elicits from Chacaltana relieve the novel's growing tension, but only briefly.

At every turn, Roncagliolo rejects the easy conventions that would turn Red April into a straightforward thriller, a broad satire or a novel of redemption. When Chacaltana is attacked by a fleeing murder suspect, for example, and regains consciousness on a desolate hillside, he simply walks to the nearest village and takes the bus back to the city, his "official activities over for the day." There is exquisite humor here, of course, as there is in the pathologist's appalling quips (of the incinerated corpse: "Two days ago he was taller") and in the novel's inspired dialogue (" 'Do you understand?' He did not understand anything. 'Yes, señor.' ") But Roncagliolo's comic genius not only makes us laugh, it also keeps us off balance. There is a sense of queasy descent as we are propelled backward into Peru's brutal decades and inward to the personal past that has formed the tragically odd Chacaltana. Yet as the novel's darkness deepens and as the plot develops menacing shadows, individual scenes acquire a startling simplicity and humanity. The second corpse, for example, has "feet splayed from walking through the countryside." In a peasant house, "the sofa was on bricks instead of legs and had a blanket thrown over it. Two children watched curiously from the hand ladder that went up to another bare brick space."

This remarkable clarity intensifies as Chacaltana's investigations lead him back to the local church, where he contemplates images of the crucified Christ with "His perforated hands. The crown of thorns [that] circled his head like a red and green tiara." When the priest expounds on the persistence of Andean blood sacrifice in Christian ceremonies, his words carry lethal meaning for Chacaltana, who begins to recognize what is before him. "If you start looking, everything has a transcendental meaning," Father Quiroz insists. "Draining someone's blood is draining the body of life in order to offer all that life to a different soul."

Chalcatana never wanted to start looking. He never wanted to confront a deranged killer, to visit an imprisoned Shining Path intellectual, to learn of the military's unspeakable atrocities. He never wanted to doubt, only to believe. "One needs a present," he observes, "in order not to think about the past." This fearless novel, however, allows no such amnesia. --Anna Mundow

Anna Mundow writes "The Interview" and the "Historical Novels" columns for The Boston Globe and is a contributor to The Irish Times.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375425448
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Pages: 271
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

SANTIAGO RONCAGLIOLO was born in Lima, Peri, in 1975. He is the author of two other novels; Red April, which will appear in eleven languages, marks his debut in English. He currently lives in Barcelona.

EDITH GROSSMAN is the award-winning translator of such masterworks as Cervantes’s Don Quixote and García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.

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Read an Excerpt

Prosecutor Chacaltana wrote the final period with a grimace of doubt on his lips. He read the page again, erased a tilde, and added a comma in black ink. Now it was fine. A good report. He had followed all the prescribed procedures, chosen his verbs with precision, and had not fallen into the unrestrained use of adjectives customary in legal texts. He avoided words with ñ—because his Olivetti 75 had lost its ñ—but he knew enough words so he did not need it. He had a large vocabulary and could replace one term with another. He repeated to himself with satisfaction that in his lawyer’s heart, a poet struggled to emerge.

He removed the pages from the typewriter, kept the carbon paper for future documents, and placed each copy of the document in its respective envelope: one for the files, one for the criminal court, one for the case record, and one for the command of the military region. He still had to attach the forensic report. Before going to police headquarters, he wrote once again—as he did every morning—his supply requisition for a new typewriter, two pencils, and a ream of carbon paper. He had already submitted thirty-six requisitions and kept the signed receipts for all of them. He did not want to become aggressive, but if the supplies did not arrive soon, he could initiate an administrative procedure to demand them more forcefully.

After delivering his requisition personally and making sure the receipt was signed, he went out to the Plaza de Armas. The loudspeakers placed at the four corners of the square were broadcasting the life and works of eminent Ayacuchans as part of the campaign of the Ministry of the Presidency to breathe patriotic values into the province: Don Benigno Huaranga Céspedes, a distinguished Ayacuchan physician, had studied at the National University of San Marcos and dedicated his life to the science of medicine, a field in which he reaped diverse tributes and various honors. Don Pascual Espinoza Chamochumbi, an outstanding Huantan attorney, distinguished himself by his vocation for helping the province, to which he bequeathed a bust of the Liberator Bolívar. For Associate District Prosecutor Félix Chacaltana Saldívar, those lives solemnly declaimed on the Plaza de Armas were models to be followed, exemplars of the capacity of his people to move forward despite poverty. He wondered if someday, on the basis of his tireless labor in the cause of justice, his name would deserve to be repeated by those loudspeakers.

He approached the newspaper cart and asked for El Comercio. The vendor said that today’s edition hadn’t arrived in Ayacucho yet, but he did have yesterday’s. Chacaltana bought it. Nothing can change much from one day to the next, he thought, all days are basically the same. Then he continued on his way to police headquarters.

As he walked, the corpse in Quinua produced a vague mixture of pride and disquiet in him. It was his first murder in the year he had been back in Ayacucho. It was a sign of progress. Until now, any death had gone directly to Military Justice, for reasons of security. The Office of the Prosecutor received only drunken fights or domestic abuse, at the most some rape, frequently of a wife by her husband.

Prosecutor Chacaltana saw in this a problem in the classification of crimes and, as a matter of fact, had forwarded to the criminal court in Huamanga a brief in that regard, to which he had not yet received a response. According to him, such practices within a legal marriage could not be called rapes. Husbands do not rape their wives: they fulfill conjugal duties. But Prosecutor Félix Chacaltana Saldívar, who understood human weakness, normally drew up a document of reconciliation to bring together the parties, and had the husband pledge to fulfill his virile duty without causing lesions of any kind. The prosecutor thought of his ex-wife Cecilia. She had never complained, at least not about that. The prosecutor had treated her with respect; he had barely touched her. She would have been astonished to see the importance of the case of the corpse. She would have admired him, for once.

In the reception area at police headquarters, a solitary sergeant was reading a sports paper. Associate District Prosecutor Félix Chacaltana Saldívar walked forward with resounding steps and cleared his throat.

“I am looking for Captain Pacheco.”

The sergeant raised bored eyes. He was chewing on a matchstick.

“Captain Pacheco?”

“Affirmative. We have a proceeding of the greatest importance.”

The prosecutor identified himself. The sergeant seemed uncomfortable. He looked to one side. The prosecutor thought he saw someone, the shadow of someone. Perhaps he was mistaken. The sergeant wrote down the prosecutor’s name and left reception, carrying the paper. The prosecutor heard his voice and another in the room to the side, without being able to make out what they were saying. In any event, he tried not to hear. That would have constituted a violation of institutional communications. The sergeant returned eight minutes later.

“Well, the fact is . . . today’s Thursday, Señor Prosecutor. On Thursdays the captain only comes in the afternoon . . . if he comes . . . because he has various proceedings to take care of too . . .”

“But procedure demands that we go together to pick up the report on the recent homicide . . . and we agreed that . . .”

“. . . and tomorrow’s complicated too, Señor Prosecutor, because they’ve called for a parade on Sunday and we have to prepare all the preparations.”

The prosecutor tried to offer a conclusive argument:

“. . . The fact is . . . the deceased cannot wait . . .”

“He’s not waiting for anything anymore, Señor Prosecutor. But don’t worry, I’m going to communicate to the captain that you appeared in person at our office with regard to the corresponding homicide.”

Without knowing exactly how, the Associate District Prosecutor was allowing himself to be led to the door by the subordinate’s words. He tried to respond, but it was too late to speak. He was on the street. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped away perspiration. He did not know exactly what to do, if he should forget procedure or wait for the captain. But Monday was too long to wait. They were going to demand a punctual report from him. He would go alone. And submit a complaint to the General Administration of Police, with a copy to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor.

He thought again of the corpse, and that reminded him of his mother. He had not gone to see her. He would have to stop by his house on the way back from the hospital, to see if she was all right. He crossed the city in fifteen minutes, went into the Military Hospital, and looked for the burn unit or the morgue. He felt disoriented among the crippled, the beaten, the suffering. He decided to ask a nurse who, with an attitude of competent authority, had just dispatched two old men.

“Dr. Faustino Posadas, please?”

The nurse looked at him with contempt. Associate District Prosecutor Félix Chacaltana Saldívar wondered if it would be necessary to show his official documents. The nurse entered an office and came out five minutes later.

“The doctor has gone out. Have a seat and wait for him.”

“I . . . I just came for a paper. I need a forensic report.”

“Generally I don’t know anything about that. But have a seat, please.”

“I am the Associate Dist . . .”

It was useless. The nurse had gone out to restrain a woman who was screaming in pain. She was not hurt. She was simply screaming in pain. The prosecutor sat down between an ancient woman weeping in Quechua and a policeman with a bleeding cut on his hand. He opened his paper. The headline announced the government’s fraudulent scheme for the elections in April. He began to read with annoyance, thinking that these kinds of suspicions ought to be brought to the Ministry of Justice for the appropriate decision before being published in the press and causing unfortunate misunderstandings.

As he scanned the page, it seemed that the recruit at the entrance was observing him. No. Not now. He had looked away. Perhaps he had not even looked at him. He continued reading. Every six minutes, more or less, a nurse would emerge from a door and call one of the people in the waiting room, an armless man or a child with polio who would leave his place with groans of pain and sighs of relief. On the third page, the prosecutor felt that the police officer beside him was trying to read over his shoulder. When he turned, the policeman was absorbed in looking at his wound. Chacaltana closed the paper and put it in his lap, drumming with his fingers on the paper to while away the time.

Dr. Posadas did not come. The prosecutor wanted to say something to the nurse but did not know what to say. He looked up. Across from him a young woman was sobbing. Her face was bruised and red, and one eye was swollen shut. She rested her battered face on her mother’s shoulder. She looked unmarried.

Chacaltana wondered what to do about unmarried rape victims in the legal system. At first he had asked that rapists be imprisoned, according to the law. But the injured parties protested: if the attacker went to jail, the victim would not be able to marry him and restore her lost honor. This imposed the need, then, to reform the penal code. Satisfied with his reasoning, the prosecutor decided to send the criminal tribunal in Huamanga another brief in this regard, attaching a communication pressing for a response at the earliest opportunity. A harsh voice with a northern accent pulled him out of his reflections:

“Prosecutor Chacaltana?”

A short man wearing glasses, badly shaven and with greasy hair, stood beside him eating chocolate. His medical jacket was stained with mustard, creole sauce, and something brown, but he kept his shoulders clean and white to conceal the dandruff that fell from his head like snow.

“I’m Faustino Posadas, the forensic pathologist.”

He held out a chocolate-smeared hand, which the prosecutor shook. Then he led him down a dark corridor filled with suffering. Some people approached, moaning, pleading for help, but the doctor pointed them to the first waiting room with the nurse, please, I only see dead people.

“I haven’t seen you before,” said the doctor as they walked into a different pavilion, with another waiting room. “Are you from Lima?”

“I come from Ayacucho but lived in Lima since I was a boy. I was transferred here a year ago.”

The pathologist laughed.

“From Lima to Ayacucho? You must have behaved very badly, Señor Chacaltana . . .” Then he cleared his throat. “If . . . you’ll permit me to say so.”

The Associate District Prosecutor had never misbehaved. He had done nothing bad, he had done nothing good, he had never done anything not stipulated in the statutes of his institution.

“I requested the transfer. My mother is here, and I had not been back in twenty years. But now that there is no terrorism, everything is quiet, isn’t it?”

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Riverbriar and Foxdapple

    Name- Riverbriar••
    Gender- Tom••
    Description- Silver/blue tom with black paws and tail with blue eyes••
    Crush- No••
    Mate- WANTS••
    Rank- Warrior••
    Siblings- Foxdapple••
    Name: Foxdapple••
    Gender: Tom••
    Description: Foxy red tom with black dappled pelt and hazel eyes••
    Crush- No••
    Mate- WANTS••
    Rank- Warrior••
    Siblings- Riverbriar••

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2013


    At happily ever after res ten. Change name to Twilightsparkle rank to warrior mate to none and crush to riverbriar.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2013


    Blonde fur gold eyes kin Cloud (riverclan) and Axel ( nightclan) history dont ask mate none

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2013

    Rosekit, Bramblekit, and Flamekit

    Name: Rosekit - Age: 2 Moons - Gender: She-Kit - Rank: Kit - Mate: none - Crush: None - Kits: None - Appearance: Small Long-Haired White With Green Eyes And A Black Paw - Personality: Curious, Playful - Kin: No Mother Or Father Just Bramblekit ((Brother)) And Flamekit ((Sister)) - Build: Small And Limp - Dreams: Being A Great Leader One Day ------------------- Name: Bramblekit - Age: 2 Moons - Gender: Tom - Rank: Kit - Mate: None - Crush: None - Kits: None - Appearance: Small Brown With Dark Green Eyes And A Black Underbelly With A Torn Left Ear - Personality: Nervous, Brave, Curious - Kin: No Mother Or Father Just Rosekit ((Sister)) And Flamekit ((Sister)) - Build: Small And Strong - Dreams: Being Undefeatable In Battle ------------------- Name: Flamekit - Age: 2 Moons - Gender: She-Kit - Rank: Kit - Mate: None - Crush: None - Kits: None - Appearance: Small Ginger With Light Green Eyes And And Black Skinny Stripes All Over Her Face - Personality: Shy, Gentle, Does Funny Things - Kin: No Mother Or Father Just Rosekit ((Sister)) And Bramblekit ((Brother)) - Build: Small And Fast - Dreams: Being A Successful Warrior One Day ---------------------------------------- If You Want To Be Their Mother And Father, Ask Them. They'll Be Very Happy. - Signature: Always Five Stars And This :RBF

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2013

    Beestar - *bio*

    NAME: Beestar --- RANK: Leader --- GENDER: Female --- EYE COLOR: Golden --- PELT COLOR: Gold wit scattered black stripes --- MATE: It was stratus but..... --- CRUSH: Secret --- KITS: None --- WARRIOR NAME: Beeflower --- FAMILY: Unknown --- PREVIOUS CLANS: Morningclan --- AGE: Unknown --- POWERS: We r a non-power clan --- HISTORY: Joined Morningclan as a young kit. Quit when it became inactive and became a rouge for a few moons. Reunited with Stratus (an old friend) and formed Cloudclan. Became leader when Stratus ceased to show up. --- NICKNAME: Bee --- SIGNATURE: @Bee.$tar --- THEME SONG: IDK yet....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2013

    Stratusstar bio

    Name: Stratusstar Nickname: Stratus Description: light gray tom with blue eyes Crush: secret Mate/kits: none History: Lived with his family. They joined a ckan then his father started a new clan. The clan died out. He left but occasionally came by to see if anyone was there. Found bee and started a cloudclan with her.

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  • Posted December 28, 2010

    Highly Recommend

    Murder mystery set in Peru in year 2000. Between Shining Path and corrupt gov't. officials, the reader can't tell the good guys from the bad guys.

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  • Posted October 12, 2010

    politics & religion dont mix

    Life is a constant struggle for prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar in Ayacucho. Having recently divorced, he has left Lima for a smaller town and becomes embroiled in political corruption and deceit at the highest levels. Struggling to find his place he is thwarted at every turn, made to accept the status quo and required to go along to keep in the graces of the local militia and police. The story reminded me of David Pearce's Red Riding Quartet, not only in the aspects of his superiors looking the other way, but at the sheer brutality of the deeds he was asked to pretend were not happening for his own good.
    As his own investigation into the murders escalates, he exposes additional cover-ups performed by the church and the local priest. When a suspected terrorist is allowed to escape from jail-only to be brutally butchered-and the priest Chacaltana confesses to is tortured and slaughtered in his own church during Holy Week, the prosecutor becomes the pursued, or is he? In his own mind, swamped in confusion, he talks to his recently departed mother and the young girl, Edith, he is trying to court.
    As the story builds to a crescendo, we are treated to the written notes of a third party as a clue to who is behind the rumors, the troubles and the murders themselves. Will Chacaltana discover the truth before he becomes the next victim? In an inspiring tale of one man trying to make a difference in this private hell on earth, Roncagliolo presents us with a flawed protagonist that we can relate to and gives us hope for mankind in this political thriller. But do not be fooled by the shy, unassuming attitude of the prosecutor; he is out to get his man no matter the cost, even if it is his own demise.
    A brilliant debut novel from one of Latin America's newest and compelling authors.

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  • Posted March 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    a profound thriller that is exciting yet insightful

    In 2000, associate district prosecutor Felix Saldivar has spent much of his career in Lima avoiding conflict. However, the almost only ash remains of a corpse found ironically on Ash Wednesday in Ayacucho changes his detachment when he is sent by his superiors to lead the official inquiry in his birth place.

    Adhering strictly to standard operating procedures, Saldivar interviews the locals, but gets nothing of use from them. He asks Police Captain Pacheco for a copy of their report, but is ignored as none have been filed. Instead the police and the military command ignore his questions and requests. In spite of the evidence he has collected, he rejects the obvious answer that the deceased was a victim of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorists because officially the group no longer exists. However, even Saldivar who buries his head in the sand notices that anyone who chats with him dies. He still writes an inane report with no supporting evidence to validate his claim, but defends the position of the army brass that terrorism no longer exists in Peru. His reward for this is to observe an election in a remote village where violence is the norm as the "nonexistent" Sendero openly operates death squads.

    This is a terrific, radically unique Peruvian police procedural that looks deeply at the people ravaged by the brutality of the Fujimori government and the Shining Light; neither side lets human rights stand in the way of achieving their agenda. The whodunit is intriguing as the villagers understand facts do not matter to an authoritarian big brother government obsessed with mistrust and the insurgents are perhaps more paranoid and deadlier. The career bureaucrat is phobic, obsessive, and impulsive with a need to impress, which have nothing to do with the facts. RED APRIL is a profound thriller that is exciting yet insightful with applications to Afghanistan as to how people endure when two adversarial groups pull villagers in opposite directions.

    Harriet Klausner

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