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Naming the Jungle

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Antoine Volodine’s NAMING THE JUNGLE successfully mixes the stylistic and aesthetic conventions of Magical Realism, Surrealism, and Postmodernism to tell its strange tale of a band of outcasts barely surviving in a remote jungle. Thus, the reader must accept that characters are killed only to live again, that time is circular, and that the narrator is highly unreliable. Once these fictional conventions are accepted, Volodine’s story provides an exquisite glimpse of the grotesque side of human life.

Squirming in a dentist’s chair that his psychiatrist, Fabian Goncalves, has inherited from the previous owner of his office, the traumatized protagonist Fabian Golpiez must retrace his journey to the run-down town of Puesto Libertad. If he fails to use only Indian proper names for everything alive, Fabian will have to go back to the political police. In a narrative twist that powerfully comments on humanity’s amazing capacity for devising ever fresh forms of cruelty, Volodine’s police operate right in front of their kitchen. Here, unfortunate suspects are interrogated as cooks brutally slaughter alligators, monkeys, and tortoises, and play bloody practical jokes.

Once Golpiez decides to flee upriver, more quixotic characters appear. There is Manda, an Indian woman who sleeps with both the psychiatrist and his patient. Former soldier Rui Gutierrez snacks on snake meat and yearns for the deep jungle. Two of Golpiez’s lovers are mysterious women with government connections, Maria Gabriela and Leonor Nieves, who occasionally appear as gigantic bats, leaving Golpiez to pursue his escape by canoe.

With many of these fantastic turns and events, NAMING THE JUNGLE offers a deliciously absurd text where reality has taken a holiday.