Fernando Melchor was born in 1982 and by 2017 she had become the darling of Mexican publishing with the original publication of her second novel, Hurricane Season, which won the 2020 International Literature Award of the Haus der Kulturen in Germany and was shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize.
Melchor had apparently said during Hurricane Season, her first novel to see an English translation – and how fortunate was the English-reading world to get a chance to discover her – that she wanted to write a novel which the reader just couldn’t let go of. It holds true for the breathless, addictive nature of Paradais too, which also had made the longlist for the International Booker Prize in 2022. Both these novels have been translated by British literary translator Sophie Hughes who deftly brings out the viridescent beauty and primeval dangers of Melchor’s world.
Set in the coast of Veracruz in Mexico, Leopoldo García Chaparro AKA “Polo”, is a 16-year-old gardener at Paradise, a luxury housing complex. His companion is the lonely, overweight, porn-addict Franco whose family resides in that complex and whose father is a powerful lawyer who can get him out of any trouble. The invisible thick line of class and comforts between these two young boys is drawn early on. Beyond Paradise’s curated gardens lies a dense jungle – where the manicured heaven of the haves end, and the unkempt reality of the have-nots begin.
Melchor makes you dive headfirst into the happenings from the opening sentence of her book itself. You are introduced to the main players and their sinister motives. From thereon, it’s a wait for the inevitable to occur, for the ruthless perversion and rage of youth to upturn the cosmetic peace of a CCTV-ed promised land that’s perpetually a night’s incident away from being transformed into a Kafkaesque hell.
This is not a writer who writes to comfort, the trigger warnings in case of Paradais are endless – graphic violence, rape fantasies, incest, misogyny, endless profanity. Sometimes a single sentence runs for pages without a break. But her observations are so punctilious, and her style so distinct, that there’s no turning away from the book once she has allowed you in it.
Imagine you’re driving on a highway and spot a poor animal at a distance, trampled under the wheels of a car that was there before you, it’s cold and lifeless body cemented to the asphalt. You want to look away but end up peering while passing it and now can’t take that image out of your head for the rest of the day. Paradais is that fever dream in printed form.