Doris Rueda Morgan

Book Review: Rosario Tijeras by Jorge Franco



 “Nunca amó ni la amaron” (She never loved nor was she ever loved in return), sings Colombian rock singer Juanes. He refers to the deadly and tragic protagonist of Jorge Franco’s novel Rosario Tijeras. Written by a Medellín born author, the short novel aims to assault readers in a same fashion that titular character Rosario attacks her victims. There are no welcoming introductions or beautiful prose to ease you into the plot. Instead you are instantly taken to a hospital waiting room where Antonio, Rosario’s only friend, barges in with her bleeding and barely breathing body. From there, Franco takes you into the memories of Antonio as he recalls his life since he met the dangerous and tragic Rosario.


Doris Rueda Morgan is a Colombian American writer and historian who resides in Southern California. She holds a BA in Criminology and an MA in History. Her research focuses on the issue of crime and society and perceptions of race, morality, and criminality. She enjoys creative writing and painting as ways to explore these issues and others through a non-traditional lens in addition to traditional academic writing.

These are not warm and happy memories. Rather, these are the memories of a man in pain, in extreme anguish, who does not know if his friend and one time lover will survive the bullet to her abdomen. Memories that exaggerate and confuse but that aggressively takes the reader into the world of Rosario Tijeras. Franco frames the narrative to weave in and out of Antonio’s reality, the hospital waiting room, and his memories. Time and chronology are not of importance here. Instead, Franco creates a novel that is in reality one long scene or dialogue between Antonio and his mind. It is the man in the waiting room, the nurse at the station, or the every slow moving clock, that trigger Antonio’s mind to specific memories and as the reader we have no choice but to follow him.

This choice in narration is surprisingly successful if not a little melodramatic at times. However, the story Franco wants to tell is melodramatic. The Medellín that Antonio and Rosario inhabit was a city plagued by violence, crime, and tragedy. Visiting Medellín today, it is hard to believe that it was once the kidnap and murder capital of the world. However, the 1980’s in Colombia, a time Franco experienced, witnessed the rise of Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel, airplane bombings, regular political assassinations, and assaults on federal building. These may seem unthinkable to some, but it was a painful reality to Colombians including my own family. Rosario Tijeras is as much a novel about a personal tragedy as it is a national tragedy.  

Along the lines of its undeniable connections to twentieth century Colombian history, is the use of language. The version I read was the original Spanish publication. The English translations I have seen do not do Franco justice for a very specific reason. Franco is a Paisa, a colloquial term to refer to people who come from the Antioquia region of Colombia, which includes Medellín. Their speech is unique among Colombians and is quite different from my own Rollo dialect which I learned from my Bogotana mother. Whereas Rollos tend to gravitate towards formality, the Paisas are notorious jokers and famous for their aggressive hospitality. Franco utilizes his Paisa personality to endow the novel with an overwhelming sense of authenticity. Unlike the popular Net flick’s show Narcos, which ignorantly forgot the importance of the Paisa dialect, the dialogue sounds as though you were walking through downtown Medellín. Franco is unapologetically Paisa. He does not stop to inform you about what his Paisa vernacular means. He leaves it to you to look up or figure out. In typical Paisa fashion, he treats you like a friend that he has known all his life. In fact, it reflects even with the telling of the story. An abrupt push into a story already in progress. A dialect that presumes intimacy with the recipient. It is characteristically Paisa and rightfully so.

Franco’s short but impactful novel is a work of Paisa art. This was a story that could never have been written by an ever cautious Bogotano. It is a uniquely Paisa novel that is about Paisa people in the heart of the Paisa land, Medellin. However, it is also a novel that reflects on the greater story of a nation gripped by violence and terror in the longest running civil wars in the western hemisphere. Rosario and Antonio are consumed by the violence around them. They fight to survive the world around them in different ways but are each scarred by a violence that will not discriminate. In the end, Rosario Tijeras is as shocking as Rosario’s life, and just as brief.

© The Acentos Review 2016