Synopses & Reviews
Internationally acclaimed for the virtuosity and power of her fiction, Laura Restrepo has created in Delirium
a passionate, lyrical, devastating tale of eros and insanity.
Aguilar, an unemployed literature professor who has resorted to selling dog food for a living, returns home from a short trip to discover that his wife, Agustina, has gone mad. He doesn’t know what has happened during his absence, and in his search for answers, he gradually unearths profound and shadowy secrets about her past.
On one level, Delirium reads like a detective story, as the reader pieces together information to discover the roots of Agustina’s madness. But it is also a remarkably nuanced novel whose currents run much deeper, delving into the minds of four characters: Aguilar, a husband passionately in love with his wife and determined to rescue her from insanity: Agustina, a beautiful woman from an upper-class Colombian family who is caught in the throes of madness; Midas, a drug-trafficker and money-launderer, who is Agustina’s former lover; and Nicolás, Agustina’s grandfather. Through the mixing of these distinct voices, Laura Restrepo creates a searing portrait of a society battered by war and corruption as well as an intimate look at the daily lives of people struggling to stay sane in an unstable country.
Delirium already has been awarded the 2004 Premio Alfaguara, the 2006 Grinzane Cavour Prize in Italy, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger in France for best translated fiction. It is an ambitious and deeply affecting masterwork by one of Latin America’s most important contemporary voices.
Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.
“Stunning, dense, complex, mind-blowing....This novel goes far above politics, right up into high art.” The Washington Post Book World
"One of the finest novels written in recent memory." Jose Saramago
"Masterful....Literary dynamite." The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
"Every word in Delirium is perfectly chosen, painfully honest and brutally effective. Restrepo chooses her words like a poet, with infinite care." The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A disconcertingly lovely book, and its depiction of Colombian society at an awful moment in its history is sharp, vivid, utterly persuasive." The New York Times Book Review
In this remarkably nuanced novel, both a gripping detective story and a passionate, devastating tale of eros and insanity in Colombia, internationally acclaimed author Laura Restrepo delves into the minds of four characters. There's Agustina, a beautiful woman from an upper-class family who is caught in the throes of madness; her husband Aguilar, a man passionately in love with his wife and determined to rescue her from insanity; Agustina's former lover Midas, a drug-trafficker and money-launderer; and Nicolás, Agustina's grandfather. Through the blend of these distinct voices, Restrepo creates a searing portrait of a society battered by war and corruption, as well as an intimate look at the daily lives of people struggling to stay sane in an unstable reality.
About the Author
Laura Restrepo is the bestselling author of several prizewinning novels published in over a dozen languages, including Leopard in the Sun, which won the Arzobispo San Clemente Prize, The Angel of Galilea, which won the Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Prize in Mexico and the Prix France Culture in France, and Delirium, which won the 2004 Alfaguara Prize, the Grinzane Cavour Prize in Italy, and was shortlisted for the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger in France. She lives in Mexico City.
Reading Group Guide
“Stunning, dense, complex, mind-blowing. . . . This novel goes far above politics, right up into high art.”
—The Washington Post Book World
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your group's discussion of Delirium, a haunting, revelatory story of a young woman's decline into madness. Set in Colombia during the 1980s, it traces the interlocking lives of the upper and criminal classes against the turmoil of a country held in thrall by the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar.
1. The multiple narratives in Delirium are presented without transition. Discuss the elements—for example, the use of recurring images both actual and metaphorical—that connect one section to the next.
2. How would you describe the tone and style of the various threads of the novel? What does Aguilar's account demonstrate about the way he thinks and looks at the world? Are Agustina's monologues simply the ramblings of an unbalanced woman or do they reveal something about her character, intelligence, and perceptiveness? What stylistic oddities bring out her state of mind and self-awareness? What effect does Midas's slangy language and casual, conversational style have on his credibility as a narrator? How would you compare Aguilar and Midas in terms of their reliability and the sympathy they evoke in readers? What literary qualities distinguish the vignettes about Nicholas and Blanca from the other narratives? Are they as powerful and engaging as the other stories?
3. In what ways do Aguilar's and Sofi's reactions to Agustina's behavior differ? What principles (or beliefs) shape their responses? What roles do their personal histories with Agustina play in the way they interpret her rages and compulsive rituals?
4. Aguilar says, “I never bothered to ask [Agustina] about her past, her family, or her memories. . . . I mourn the questions I didn't ask” [p. 21]. Do you think that Agustina would have been open with him about the negative sides of her upbringing or would her own confusion and guilt have made that impossible? What insights does Aguilar's list of the faults her family finds with him provide into why he and Agustina were attracted to one another? To what extent did each of them act out of willfulness and self-interest?
5. How does Agustina see her father? Does her portrait of him change as the novel progresses? In what ways is their relationship shaped by the dynamics in the household, the family's status, and traditional Latin American culture? Are there moments or incidents that capture familiar experiences? Discuss, for example, what their ritual of locking their doors together [pp. 75-6] and their interactions when Agustina begins dating [pp. 192-8] illustrate about the nature and complexities of many father-daughter relationships.
6. What do Agustina's efforts to protect Bichi show about her inner conflicts? What is the significance of the juxtaposition of religious and sexual elements in the secret ceremonies they conduct [p. 33]?
7. Eugenia is presented from various perspectives, from Aguilar's view of her as a cold, uncaring mother [pp. 22-4] to Agustina's memory of watching her prepare for an evening out [pp. 97-100], to Sofi's description of her sister's isolation within the family [p. 108]. How do the personalities, needs, and prejudices of each influence their impressions of her? In a society built on the unquestioned authority of men, could Eugenia have played a larger, more effective role in the family? Could she have prevented his brutal treatment of Bichi or at least mitigated the effects of his blatant preference for the macho Joaco? What does her reaction to Agustina's first period [pp. 151-2], and especially to the confrontation that ultimately tears the family apart [p. 300], reveal about her own sexuality and the repression of upper-class women in Colombia? Does the exposure of lies and deceptions the family harbors change your opinion of Eugenia?
8. Class and money are central to the plot of Delirium, as well as the interactions among the characters. How does Midas capture this, both in his dealings with Escobar, Spider, and the other thugs, and in his behavior with and observations about the Londoño family? Why is he better able to see the importance of both class and money than the other characters? Do you think he expresses the author's point of view on the underlying economic and social causes of Colombia's corruption and the violence that has become commonplace?
9. In his description of life with Agustina, Aguilar says, “Madness is a compendium of unpleasant things: for example it's pedantic, it's hateful, and it's torturous” [p. 105], and Midas, addressing the absent Agustina, complains, “You start to use fancy words and predict things like a prophet, but a whiny, annoying prophet . . .” [p. 254]. How do you think Agustina would respond to these characterizations? What aspects of their descriptions come out either explicitly or implicitly in her own accounts? Do her memories and fantasies offer a more profound and perhaps more realistic portrait of madness and the consequences, real or imagined, of being a “visionary”?
10. Why does the story of Nicholas and Blanca add to the novel? What insights does it provide to the nature and causes of madness? Are there parallels between the emotional confusion (about love, sex, and belonging, for example) Nicholas and Agustina experience? Are there similarities between Blanca and Aguilar and the roles they play in their spouses' lives?
11. Aguilar describes Colombia as “a country . . . split from top to bottom by a mountain range, the highways . . . twist and twine around abysses . . . and they're seized every day by the army, the paramilitaries, or the guerillas, who kidnap you, kill you, or assault you with grenades . . .” [p. 29]. How do the images this passage invokes relate to Agustina's breakdown? In what ways does Colombia's decline into chaos and fear parallel the delirium Agustina suffers from?
12. Although Escobar was killed in 1993, the drug trade continues to thrive in Colombia. What does Delirium demonstrate about the power of drug-traffickers and the failures of America's “war on drugs”?
13. The epigraph of the novel quotes Gore Vidal: “Wise Henry James had always warned writers against the use of a mad person as central to a narrative on the ground that as he was not morally responsible, there was no true tale to tell.” Does Delirium belie James's wisdom? Can you think of other novels in which a mentally ill or disturbed person plays a central role and exposes the deceptions and the immorality within a family or a society? Are the situations in which these lies are necessary to the survival of an individual or even an entire nation?