Mexican author Jorge Volpi has come up with something truly original here. Volpi is known in Mexico as the founder of the “Crack” literary movement, a movement that calls on Mexican authors to move away from Magical Realism and the notion of “what a Latin American novel is supposed to be” and find their own voices. Volpi certainly achieved this with this novel, epic in scope, a sort of hybrid work which takes its cues more from Borges and Cortázar than it does from the Magical Realist authors.
The novel follows the story of four women and how their lives are impacted by the historical events over the past fifty years, concentrating mainly on the collapse of the Soviet Union and all the events that lead up to it. All the events are here: the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the end of the Stalinist period, the rise of the Cold War, the invasion of Afghanistan, Perestroika and Glasnost, through today. Not only are the lives of these four women affected by these historical moments but in a lot of ways are a part of them. Volpi mixes fictional characters with real historical figures throughout the entire narrative and what you get is sort of a hybrid fiction-history book, the detail of which is astounding. One gets the impression that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union is somewhat akin to the fall of Troy - or any other civilization which did not see itself as ever succumbing to such a fate; something for the American reader to think about as he/she ponders the events that have taken place over the past half-century. It is a story about the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, one in which things are as uncertain as they ever have been.
Once in a while a novel will come along that tries to push the boundaries of what is expected of fiction and “Season of Ash” is definitely one of them. It’s engaging, unique in its mission, and most definitely original. This is Volpi’s second work translated into English. I definitely look forward to more. Highly recommended.