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Flesh Wounds and Purple Flowers: The Cha-cha Years

by Francisco Ibañez-Carrasco

Franciso Ibañez-Carrasco’s first novel is a beautiful and often difficult book about searching for the source of one’s humanity. Flesh Wounds and Purple Flowers follows Camilo, a strong-willed gay Chilean who escapes Santiago for Vancouver in the early 1980s. Told partly by Camilo himself, and partly by an unidentified third-person narrator, it makes few concessions to readers unfamiliar with queer culture, or to readers who have no Spanish. Some might find this disconcerting, but such compromises would undermine the story’s conviction that there is something intractable and untranslatable about individual human identity.

Camilo undertakes a search for the defining boundaries of his own physical being. The journey is relentless and sometimes frightening, as are the descriptions of Camilo’s often brutal sexual encounters. There is something fundamentally religious in all this mortification of the flesh, something in the cycles of grace and masochistic degradation that Camilo subjects himself to that is intimately connected with his upbringing in predominantly Catholic Santiago.

Camilo’s journey through the netherworld of nightclubs and bathhouses eventually leads him to himself, but the price of this arrival is self-destruction – he recounts his story from the hospital bed where he lies dying of AIDS. Ibañez-Carrasco’s use of the hospital as a frame for the story is skillful; the building becomes a metaphor for the wider society that, by seeking to explore, name, and diagnose every recess of human pathology, makes it almost impossible for the individual to take possession of his own being.

There is much in Flesh Wounds that speaks directly to gender and racial politics, but this is not primarily a book about race or gender identity so much as an exploration of the human body. The story contains many moments of raw beauty, and many of extraordinary power. Ibañez-Carrasco writes about the basic human struggle to be free with the conviction and love that the struggle demands.