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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Country of Toó

Rodrigo Rey Rosa

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To purchase The Country of Toó

Title: The Country of Toó
Author: Rodrigo Rey Rosa
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 209 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Country of Toó - US
The Country of Toó - US
The Country of Toó - UK
The Country of Toó - Canada
The Country of Toó - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Biblioasis
  • Spanish title: The Country of Toó
  • Translated by Stephen Henighan

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Our Assessment:

B : a revealing and quite entertaining broad sweep

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 18/1/2019 Ascensión Rivas
LALT . 8-10/2019 Bill Clary

  From the Reviews:
  • "Rey Rosa ha creado un texto complejo, alejado de la linealidad, una especie de puzzle en el que las escenas aparecen como bloques, con personajes de diferentes niveles sociales que pugnan por mantenerse a flote en los momentos de incertidumbre; también en lo personal, lo familiar y lo afectivo. Al mismo tiempo, ha escrito una novela política en la que describe enfrentamientos entre una autoridad legalmente reconocida y unos indígenas que tratan de defender lo que creen justo, conflicto que también compromete a una ONG." - Ascensión Rivas, El Cultural

  • "Rey Rosa’s new novel also expertly reveals the levels of deep rooted, historic and institutionalized corruption in this imaginary Central American republic (.....) The reshuffling and political transformations that the characters in El país de Toó experience are corollaries that underscore the prevailing theme of necessary, substantive reform." - Bill Clary, Latin American Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The fictional Toó of the title is: "a place apart" -- "since 1847 when the local elders rebelled in order not to join the recently founded republic". Only some of the action in this three-part novel takes place there, as Rey Rosa offers a panorama of Guatemalan politics and conditions -- meaning, in both cases, mostly corruption -- and some of the counter-efforts to these, that culminates there, in the highlands with their predominantly indigenous population, the pressures and threat of industrial capitalism (in the form of powerful mining interests) looming.
       Cobra -- Rafael Soto -- is from El Salvador, but didn't fare well there -- a gang-member who also did a stint in prison -- and has taken a position working for local shady power Don Emilio Carrión that his father arranged for him, to get him out of the country. Early in the novel, one of Cobra's errands is to drive someone to "the tiny kingdom of Toó" -- which he will eventually return to in the novel's conclusion.
       After working at Don Emilio's as a chauffeur and helper, Cobra is eventually given a bigger assignment, which begins with him basically infiltrating the activists' collective Casa Rosa, an organization founded by fifty-five-year-old Polo Yrrarraga, which has been instrumental in "dragging a bunch of crooks out of the Presidential Palace" -- and which is a thorn in Don Emilio's side, as Polo begins looking into suspicious circumstances around some work Don Emilio had done at his house recently. Having just won a major prize for his work, Polo is getting a good deal of attention anyway; he also understands that he has to be cautious, as he has ruffled a lot of feathers. And, in fact, Cobra has been charged with seeing to his death -- only to find, once he has put the plan in action, that he too is considered expendable, as Don Emilio is clearly someone who likes to clean up everything, and everyone, around his dubious doings.
       Don Emilio has a son, Jacobo, who suffers from: "a severe mental delay", and whom Don Emilio eventually has institutionalized. Cobra, who is presumed dead after he has carried out Don Emilio's orders, knows he has to hide out but also wants his revenge. Don Emilio already finds the walls closing in on him from all directions and wants to make good his own escape -- but Cobra and then son Jacobo, whose mental delay turns out to have been unblocked quite a while earlier, narrow down his options.
       Retreating eventually to Toó, Cobra then also gets involved in confronting the outside forces encroaching on it, and threatening to essentially destroy its foundations. Toó is not simple paradise -- there are corrupt locals just as anywhere else -- but the traditional ways still hold a lot of sway here.
       The Country of Toó unfolds all over the map -- with background details filled in along the way --, but the basics are reasonably easy to follow. There's an easy-going casualness to how many of the characters live and operate, with Polo's brother -- a member of Congress, whose "economic, professional and family stability" had all suffered because of Polo's activities, but who still watches out for him (advising him to perhaps take a vacation: "You're shaking the hornet's nest, and now, with these prizes, you're in their sights"). Meanwhile, in the background, political unrest continues at all levels -- and so, for example, Don Emilio hears on the radio the news that:

     The President of the Republic has declared the Commissioner of the United Nations Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala persona non grata and demanded his immediate departure from the country.
       As readers will recall, this actually happened -- and is considered a turning point in Guatemala's recent slow spiral back into ever greater corruption and autocracy.
       With several dominant characters -- notably Cobra, Polo, Don Emilio, and Jacobo -- and the ways their paths overlap and interact, The Country of Toó is intricate without getting too dense -- though at the cost of sometimes feeling too unfocused. The story -- or rather stories, even as they do also fit together -- do drift some, which is also reflected in the characters, from unmoored Cobra, away from wife and child, and even Polo's moving from interview to interview early in the novel. But Rey Rosa has an engaging style and way about him, and there's both suspense as well as political messages, without him being too heavy-handed about it.
       It makes for an appealing panorama of both the country and the different cultures and forces -- from Mayan-traditional to global global-capitalist -- at work in it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 July 2023

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The Country of Toó: Reviews: Rodrigo Rey Rosa:
  • Profile by Ronald Flores
  • Q & A with Francisco Goldman in Bomb
Other books by Rodrigo Rey Rosa under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Guatemalan author Rodrigo Rey Rosa was born in 1958.

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© 2023 the complete review

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