the Little Red Reviewer

Surrender, by Ray Loriga

Posted on: March 8, 2020

Originally published in Spanish in 2017,  Ray Loriga’s novel Surrender won the Alfaguara literary prize that year. Thanks to the translation talents of Carolina de Roberts, Surrender is now available in English.  I picked up a free ARC of this novel at ConFusion.

 

I find I don’t mind not being told everything up front.  Author wants to drop me in the deep end, and explain stuff later, or not explain things later? I’m ok with that.  But I know not everyone is.

 

If you prefer stories with lots of specific worldbuilding and world politics that are explained in detail, if you want a clear resolution at the end,  if you need things to be named and categorized, Surrender by Ray Loriga is not for you. Loriga doesn’t even tell you people’s names. The more you need to know about a world to enjoy that world,  the less this book is for you.

 

Surrender reads as if you are half in a dream,  what is right in front of you is in sharp focus, but everything else feels misty and of minimal importance.  Told in first person, the unnamed narrator tells us what is most important to him – how much he loves his wife,  how they met, their farm and the village they live in, and the rare letters they receive from their sons who are off fighting a foreign war. Their village is near the front, and when a mute and injured little boy wanders onto their property, the narrator and his wife unofficially adopt the little boy.

 

The narrator is passionate and kind,  he is pleased with his life, he doesn’t have many complaints. He effectively pulls the reader into his world.

 

The war is going badly,  and the village is evacuated.  Everyone is told to pack one suitcase and to hop on busses that will take everyone to the safety of the Transparent City.  No need to bring much, as the City will provide food, clothing, and housing. You and your children will be safe there.

 

The city is being evacuated,  residents are told to burn their homes so the enemy can’t use them for shelter, people are hoarding water and supplies. And yet, the unnamed narrator and his family seem perfectly calm. He places full trust in the government, because why wouldn’t you?

After a harrowing trip across dangerous terrain,  the small family arrives in the literal Transparent City, where literally everything is transparent. Walls, floor, ceiling, plumbing pipes, furniture, everything is made of clear glass and plastic. The city does provide everything – food, clothing, apartments, schooling for Julio, medical care, jobs for the man and his wife.  His wife is in heaven, she’s been given a job at a library (she never much cared for the farming wife), and the narrator is given a job at the waste processing plant. There is even a labor union!

 

The city provides everything,  and removes all privacy. You want to have sexy bedroom times? The rooms are kept very warm, and no blankets are provided.  Need to spend some time in the bathroom? All your neighbors can see you. Everyone will see what you do after dinner, whether it is playing with your kids, or fighting with your spouse,  or pacing angrily.

 

What happens to a society when there is no privacy?

 

Can relationships survive full transparency?

 

The narrator is certainly shocked by his new surroundings, but he cautiously keeps his thoughts to himself and sees how things play out. He listens and observes, and enjoys playing with his adopted son in the evenings. He is pleased that this little boy won’t have to grow up in a war torn country.  He figures if something was really wrong, his worldly and highly educated wife would be panicking, and she seems fine with the whole thing. She also seems very, very fine with the handsome young man who seems to have moved in with them?

 

For an environment that allows everyone to see clearly,  there is still plenty that is hidden. For example, who runs the place?  Why can’t the narrator ask questions about his soldier sons whereabouts?  Why is the city lit 24 hours a day?  Why is this place so bland and boring? Why does this place make it feel like art and creativity and free will have died?

 

The narrator becomes increasingly uneasy – nothing is a challenge anymore in his life. His work brings no sense of accomplishment,  the city has no seasons so he’s lost a feeling of the natural passage of time, he can’t seem to get any clear information about the whereabouts of his sons or the state of the outside world. He misses being able to go hunting in the woods.  He misses his wife’s affections.

 

After I while of reading, I thought to myself “ok, so where is this placid post-war dystopian story going?”

 

Why does his wife seem OK with everything that’s happening? Why does the narrator seem so disinterested in the war? I have so many other questions!  And none of them ever got answered.

 

And then, something happened, this super quick nearly throw away scene and I sat up and thought “Did they just imply that? Does that meant that,  hey wait a minute, holy shit!”

 

And then the end of the novel just blew me away.

 

Surrender is a very easy novel to read. Nothing in this book will kick you in the feels, it’s not that kind of book.  It is rather short, and goes at a fast pace. The narrator is an excellent father to his adopted son, he is a kind and respectful husband, he is a good citizen.  The thing I am wrestling with is I don’t know if he is a reliable narrator. And? I don’t know if his being reliable matters.

 

3 Responses to "Surrender, by Ray Loriga"

Holy cow, I need to read this I think. I need to know if any of your questions get answered! 🙂

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yes! i need everyone to read this so someone can tell me what the hell happened at the end when he was in the hospital! because i don’t think I trust the narrator anymore. Like, I get that what he is perceiving is happening, that is his truth, but still!

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[…] Andrea Johnson reviews Surrender on The Little Red Reviewer […]

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