Damnificados is loosely based on the real-life occupation of a half-completed skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, the Tower of David. In this fictional version, 600 “damnificados”—vagabonds and misfits—take over an abandoned urban tower and set up a community complete with schools, stores, beauty salons, bakeries, and a rag-tag defensive militia. Their always heroic (and often hilarious) struggle for survival and dignity pits them against corrupt police, the brutal military, and the tyrannical “owners.” Taking place in an unnamed country at an unspecified time, the novel has elements of magical realism: avenging wolves, biblical floods, massacres involving multilingual ghosts, arrow showers falling to the tune of Beethoven’s Ninth, and a trash truck acting as a Trojan horse.
Steering away from my normal track of horror and dark fantasy, I recently read Damnificados by JJ Amaworo Wilson. Published back in 2016, this heavily fictionalized story based on true events delves deep into magical realism. It’s a mix of humor, human drama, and fantastical events that is entertaining if not flawed.
Damnificados essentially tells its readers a legend. The legendary tale of Nacho Morales and his struggle to keep together a community of people after they successfully take over an abandoned tower in the center of a city. The story is told in present tense which lends an urgency to the writing. Wilson’s prose is excellent, especially his detailed descriptions of locations and events. I found myself laughing and re-reading certain sections simply for the pure enjoyment of the printed words.
On the flip side, the book’s pacing is tough. For a novel clocking in at under 300 pages, some portions drag heavily. New characters are constantly introduced and there are a few world-building subplots that were unnecessary, if not entertaining. The overall plot was straight forward and could probably have been told as a novella, were it not for the elaborate descriptions and prosaic experimentation (one chapter features a 4-page long sentence). As the saying goes “middles are hard”, but I’m glad I put up through the minor slog to reach what was a satisfying ending.
As someone who has written satire, I appreciated Wilson’s often tongue-in-cheek tone and the positive message he portrays even in light of the struggles the characters face in his book.
If you’re at all interested in political fiction, magical realism, or stories told as legends, you may want to grab Damnificados and give it a read.
What I Liked:
- Excellent prose and voice.
- Wilson’s humor and effective political satire
- Literary experimentation
What I Didn’t Like:
- Middle section dragged
- Plot/story was sacrificed in spots for purple prose
- Some members of ensemble cast felt underdeveloped