Alonso Cueto’s Peru is a country doused in death.
It is a nation that the history of torture and annihilation of suspected terrorists during the Civil War is hidden. Cueto’s narrator, Adrian Ormache, is a wealthy lawyer who lives a comfortable existence founded on his father’s murky legacy. Following his mother’s death, Adrian learns how closely intertwined that legacy is with sufferings of those persecuted under military operations. Adrian prides himself on his subtle refinement; the novel opens with an ode to his own ego, in which he admits his satisfaction in his own appearance, in the beauty and intelligence of his wife and daughters and in his social and professional standing. A bout of self-reflection comes with the loss of his beloved mother, a divorcee who still concealed the dark truth of her ex-husband’s, Adrian’s father’s, past.
Adrian journeys on a transformative arc to humility after discovering a letter his mother left for him to find. The letter reveals she was blackmailed for the crimes of Adrian’s father who, as a navy officer, ordered the torture, rape and murder of many in the war. But Cueto’s empathy for Adrian and his desire to atone for his father’s sins is perhaps greater than that of the reader. The lawyer’s obsession with discovering the truth is steeped in self-interest and threatens to destroy other’s wellbeing. This is most evident is his fixation with the enigmatic Maria, a surviving victim and lover of Adrian’s father. Under the surface of Adrian’s elegance and benevolence lies an unrealised streak of cruelty and desire for chaos, which is darkly captivating. Cueto’s seductive prose ensures The Blue Hour is both a delicious read and an eye-opening account of Peruvian society.