The Juan Planchard Inside Each of Us

The bolichico par excellence, Juan Planchard feeds on suffering and vice. He's fictitious, but so close to truth that you're gonna rage… bad.

Las Aventuras de Juan Planchard is a book that turned into a phenomenon and through word-of-mouth, became a mandatory read. Press and public have praised Jonathan Jakubowicz’s book for its sharp, no-holds-barred satirical portrayal of chavismo and, particularly, bolichicos, the small clique of pragmatic entrepreneurs who, with innate opportunism, have turned into the new ruling class.

Juan Planchard, the book’s narrator and protagonist, is a shady creature from that wildlife. Once a Procter & Gamble employee living with his parents, we meet him in his Las Vegas suite in a daytoday of coke-fueled orgies and fishy million-dollar businesses with the Venezuelan government.

All it took was for him to realize that, in a country where everyone bends the rules, the key to success is to cheat, swindle, abuse, and hamper everyone, in the name of the people. In his words:

“In this land of cannibals there’s no reason to be honest. No virtue on respecting others. No punishment for the bad guys. No reward for the moral being. Only the hustler succeeds, the abuser, the one who doesn’t break for anyone else.”

I’ve been curious about books written in the shadow of chavismo. After all, our dictatorships forced Rómulo Gallegos, Miguel Otero Silva and Teresa de la Parra to make a stand and condemn their reality. As such, it’s easy to see why this book is so popular; it’s a weekend read with some Wolf of Wall Street quality that makes you both appalled and attracted to that amoral realm where Juan is a demigod. You can’t help but feel sympathy for the devil.

I know I’ll get some backlash for this but Jakubowicz, better known as the director of Secuestro Express and Hands of Stone, is not that great of a writer. He falls hard in telling things instead of showing them particularly in sex scenes , and clutches to obvious tropes, even if they are tongue-in-cheek.

In this land of cannibals there’s no reason to be honest… Only the hustler succeeds, the abuser, the one who doesn’t break for anyone else.

The humor, by the way, didn’t work for me; it relies on how outrageous the bolichico world is. I mean, I believe most of what is portrayed has happened one way or the other, but for me is more enraging than amusing. Likewise, the narration never misses the chance for a wisecrack observation and, at times, the line between Planchard’s views and the author’s blurs. Also, I’ll never forgive Jakubowicz for that awful Cohen/Coen Brothers joke.

But there are many shining spots. The Cementerio description hits the spot, and Planchard’s parents’ subplot was fine, somewhat jarring compared to the rest.

Juan Planchard, in a way, represents every single thing we hate about those who, again and again, avoid justice and live opulent lifestyles, profiting off of misery while repeating it’s for our own good. It took me over a month to read it because of the sheer indignation of each chapter. Had the book focused on the human element and dropped the comedic angle, it would have been much more thought-provoking. Instead, it just preaches to the choir about how chavismo is bad, and jerks profit from it.

José González Vargas

Freelance journalist, speculative fiction writer, college professor, political junkie, lover of books and movies and, semi-professional dilettante. José has written for NPR's Latino USA, Americas Quarterly, Into and ViceVersa Magazine.