The Lost Baggage of Silvia Guzmán by Mike Robbins – 4 stars
When Silvia’s country falls apart after a coup, she flees to London. Picked up by the police, she is dumped for weeks in a bed-and-breakfast with a crazy landlady, then rescued by cold intellectuals. She finds she is a nuisance to one side and a cause to the other, with no dreams, family or opinions of her own. Until she meets another, earlier, refugee; and then she has a surprise for everyone.
The Lost Baggage of Silvia Guzmán is a story of flight, loss and the pain of exile. But it is also a sideways look at liberal London – perceptive, caustic and sometimes very funny.
Overall, I liked this story. The title character earned my sympathy and empathy, and her life felt believable. As a character, Sylvia is generally passive and has little of her own agency, but she’s a good lens through which to see things. The rest of the characters aren’t terribly well developed, yet since the story isn’t focused on them, it doesn’t matter much.
Three different aspects of the tale are presented: the past, the present, and a novel written by one of the secondary characters. The switching between the past and present doesn’t always work, causing some confusion about what’s going on and why the past scene needs to be told. The fictional novel doesn’t really make sense until the end, when everything comes together and works.
Everything is described with care and zeal enough to bring the scenes to life in rich detail. In addition, the writing is just a hair shy of addictive; once I picked it up, I was able to put it down again, but found my attention straying back to the book at odd times, prodding me to pick it back up and read more.
There is some explicit sex that took me by surprise, because I didn’t expect it. These scenes all take place within the fictionalized novel, which seemed to be part of the point.
This tale kept me engaged and interested, and I found the ending satisfying. I recommend it generally to anyone who finds the description of interest.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.