The Blue Line: A Novel

Image of The Blue Line: A Novel
Release Date: 
January 25, 2016
Penguin Press
Reviewed by: 

Julia inherits a gift from her grandmother: the ability to see through a person’s eyes when they are in the most trouble and their soul is reaching out for help, from somewhere in the future. Julia is just five when she first sees the would-be drowning of her sister, and through small acts leading up to the unknown day it is meant to occur, she helps prevent it.

Julia learns from her grandmother, Mama Fina, that she has a duty to act with the knowledge she gains with her gift—to tell the person what will transpire, but then she is to let them act as they will, as difficult as it is because sometimes the people choose to die—otherwise she will lose her gift.

The chapters jump back and forth between young Julia growing up in 1970s Argentina and learning to manage and understand her gift as well as her love for the mysterious, older revolutionary Theo, and her life with Theo in Connecticut including the time she spends looking for Theo while raising their son, Ulysses. The switching in the narrative time does create some confusion, but not so much to put a reader off entirely of the novel. The time in Argentina is written in past tense while the Connecticut chapters are written in present.

Julia and Theo go into hiding as Juan Peron, former president and military dictator, returns to Argentina, and the Montoneros sympathizers, of which Julia and Theo are two, are hunted down. One day, Julia’s grandmother has a vision that she shares with Julia: her granddaughter bent over a toilet vomiting blood in a prison cell, and an open door with guards briefly distracted. In the vision, Julia doesn’t survive because she tries to find Theo.

The time comes that Julia and Theo are captured by the death squads, but because of Mama Fina, Julia is as prepared as she can be. She waits to recognize the vision Mama Fina described and knows when to act. Soon the couple escape and make their way to the suburbs of Connecticut where the mundane takes on a surreal feeling for Julia and new life choices must be made.

The Blue Line is a self-destructive love story with strongly developed characters. Julia grows before readers eyes from a naïve child, desperate and scared young woman, to a woman liberated from the ideals and romance of a shared past with a damaged man.

The language flows well and is only jarring in a few places, for instance, when Julia describes a young Korean woman, the word “Oriental” is used to describe her eyes. Julia is not painted as a racist or as particularly ignorant, but the language is jarring and it is hard to determine whether or not author Betancourt intended for the word Oriental to be used (Oriental describes furniture, not people, nowadays). The other oddity is when Julia “glimpses his strong knees.” How does a person have strong knees?

This is Ms. Betancourt’s debut novel. Infused with magical realism—a style most popularized by Latin American writers—The Blue Line examines the meaning of family, freedom, and sacrifice.

Betancourt is an ideal author for a novel about political upheaval and danger, for revolutionary causes, activism, and dictatorship: she is a Colombian French politician and activist who was held hostage for six years by FARC terrorists (written about in her memoir Even Silence Has an End). The Blue Line is smart and sophisticated, with razor-sharp descriptions of terror and torture, hardship and relief.