A Luminous Republic


Title: A Luminous Republic (original title: República luminosa)

Writer: Andrés Barba (translated bu Lisa Dillman)

Publishing House: Granta Books

Date of Publication: June 4th 2020 (first published November 29th 2017)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’When I’m asked about the thirty-two children who lost their lives in San Cristóbal, my reaction varies depending on the age of my interlocutor. If we’re the same age, I say that understanding is simply a matter of piecing together that which was previously seen as disjointed. If they’re younger, I ask if they believe in bad omens.’’

‘’I got the feeling that this wild stray was two contradictory things at once: a benign presence and a terrible omen, a friend welcoming me to the city, but also a messenger delivering alarming news.’’

The town of San Cristóbal is afflicted by a series of vandalisms, thefts and assaults disrupting the peaceful daily life of the residents. Although the perpetrators are known to all, no one is prosecuted. Thirty-two children that no one knows where they come from and no one knows where they go once night falls. Once the final line is crossed, an incomprehensible chase starts. A family of newcomers is in the heart of this peculiar situation in one of the most moving, complex and haunting novels I’ve ever read.

‘’When we see them on the street we pretend they’re not there, but they watch us and say nothing, like vultures.’’

In a superstitious community, the protagonist of this incredible novel tries to make sense of a frightening situation. How can you react when the ‘’guilty party’’ is a gang of children that disappear every night only to return in the morning more and more vicious. What are they? Can they be summoned through other children’s invocations? Can the residents’ children ‘’talk’’ to them through their dreams?

How can you react when you are threatened by children? What are the origins of a child’s psyche? What defined a child? What influences their behaviour? And if we lose the innocence of children, what hope is there for our society? Soon, we find ourselves in the middle of two camps, the adults and the children and the strain between the parents and their offspring who are in danger of siding with the children-criminals. 

Barba creates a fable that seems made of the wildest, bloodiest folk tales and gives us the end from the beginning. It doesn’t matter. If anything, its effect is even more powerful. The sympathetic protagonist finds himself in the heart of brutal scene and circumstances. There is a particularly haunting scene of the destruction of the Christmas presents for the ones in need that really sets the alarm for the readers and their expectations.

A novel that must be read in order to be felt, a novel that raises serious questions on the origins and instincts of human nature.

‘’But reality persists and not even that made them cease to be children. How could we forget, given that it was there that the whole outrage began? Children. And one fine day it turned out that they stole. ‘’They seemed so innocent!’’, exclaimed some, but after that outcry came the personal affront. ‘’They seemed so innocent and they deceived us, the little hypocrites.’’ They were children, granted, but not our children.’’

Many thanks to Granta Books and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.