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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Invasion of the Spirit People

Juan Pablo Villalobos

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To purchase Invasion of the Spirit People

Title: Invasion of the Spirit People
Author: Juan Pablo Villalobos
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 231 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Invasion of the Spirit People - US
La invasión del pueblo del espíritu - US
Invasion of the Spirit People - UK
Invasion of the Spirit People - Canada
La invasión del pueblo del espíritu - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: And Other Stories
  • Spanish title: La invasión del pueblo del espíritu
  • Translated and with a Translator's Note by Rosalind Harvey

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Our Assessment:

B : effectively presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 14/6/2022 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)n on-point satire of immigration politics (.....) Throughout, Villalobos hilariously sends up the ways in which racism and xenophobia sully the city's strong cultural identity. Once again, Villalobos proves himself a jester." - Publishers Weekly

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 narrator of Invasion of the Spirit People is not entirely omniscient -- and explains at the outset that:

There are lots of other characters in this story, but we're going to accompany Gastón at all times, as if we were floating just behind him and had access to his feelings, his sensations, the flow of his thoughts. Basically, we're a bunch of prying busybodies
       Gastón is in his mid-fifties, an immigrant from 'the Southern Cone' who has long lived in the nameless city where the action takes place, He owns a small plot of land where he: "grows herbs, fruit and exotic vegetables, the stuff that gets called 'gourmet' or 'ethnic'" with which he supplies local restaurants and shops. He has a dog named Kitten who is terminally ill and close to death; he also has a close friend, Max, who has long run a restaurant but now has to close shop, his landlord having sold the building, and who only has a short time until he has to move. Max has a son -- named: "Pablo, in the colonizing language, or Pol, in the native language" -- who is currently doing work at a research station in the Tundra, "researching life in extreme conditions". Gastón is not close to his extended family back in the South Cone, but Max and Pol are like family.
       There are tensions in the city, with some of the established locals seeing outsiders and newcomers as a threat, their complaints familiar ones
     'It is an invasion,' he insists, 'and if we don't do anything, soon it'll just be budget bazaars run by Far Easterners, corner shops run by Near Easterners, and greengrocers' run by North Easterners.'
       An outsider himself -- though long established locally -- Gastón tries not to let himself get drawn into these debates, but the rising tensions make it difficult to entirely avoid: "You can't not be on any side", he is told. But Gastón focuses on his more pressing problems: seeing to it that Kitten can die in some comfort; trying to help Max in some way. Things get more complicated when Pol flees his post and returns -- apparently with something of significance from there, since his boss follows him here, hoping to confront him. Then Max's father, a former minister of public works in "that other Peninsula" who is now also on the run, also shows up.
       Pol's research work has piqued his interest in the theory of panspermia -- "seeds of life throughout the universe" -- and, more specifically that life on earth is the result of directed panspermia:
A colonisation carried out by an extraterrestrial civilization which sent genetic material down to earth.
       Pol has come to conclude that: "We're an experiment".
       The world Villalobos presents here is -- mirroring our actual one -- one in which the more familiar and visible form of colonization still defines a great deal (it all looking, inter alia, also like some grand social experiment). Villalobos specifically frames much here in these terms, speaking of the 'ex-Colonies' and the relationships between the different, largely only geographically-described locales. The alien -- figurative and, perhaps even in all its senses, literal -- figures prominently in the novel -- and, as Gastón is reminded:
     'The really dangerous thing,' interrupts the old teacher, 'is the idea that everything that comes from outside, anything alien, is a threat that must be eradicated.
       (It is noteworthy that both Max with his shuttered restaurant and Gastón on his small plot of land are both also exclusionary here, trying quite hard to keep outsiders at bay.)
       It makes for an intriguing little novel about society and how it deals with (the many forms of) what is alien, the novel proceeding in an easy-going way in its short chapters but also with a decidedly uneasy, at times even sinister, underlying feel to it.
       Much of the appeal and success of the story also lies in its telling, the narrative voice and eye coming repeatedly to the fore, and reminding readers of its limitations -- and that the telling also shapes the story, as:
(T)he truth does not reside in an image but rather in the process of imagining, in what happens between mind and matter, in how we tell this story.
       The perpective allows only (some) direct insight into Gastón and not the other characters, who are seen essentially only refracted through Gastón's interactions with them. In a sense, we see only a sliver -- Gastón's -- of the story, but of course one of the beauties of storytelling is how even the limited can suggest much more; even here, we still get the whole story, as it were.
       With its intentional vagueness, Invasion of the Spirit People can feel a bit meandering, but it's a successfully- and intriguingly-told story.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 July 2022

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Invasion of the Spirit People: Reviews: Other books by Juan Pablo Villalobos under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos was born in 1973.

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© 2022 the complete review

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