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Category Archive for 'Colombia'

In his first novel published in English since the IMPAC Dublin Award-winning The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabriel Vasquez further develops some of the themes of identity and reality which made that novel so rich, mesmerizing, and dramatically exciting. In this more compressed and even more insightful and exciting novel, Vasquez homes in on the many kinds of events which affect our lives and our visions of reality, while also adding a whole new layer of “reality”– that of art and its ability to change the way we see life and even to control our perceptions of it. Key to this approach is his focus on main character Javier Mallarino, a sixty-five-year-old artist who has worked for forty years as a caricaturist for one of Bogota, Colombia’s major newspapers. Reputations, the assessments of a person’s life by those who know him, can be confirmed, enhanced, or, in some cases, utterly destroyed by a cartoonist who is, in actuality, inserting himself into the life of that person through his satirical artwork. and permanently manipulating aspects of that life as others see it. Ultimately, the novel is filled with wonderful images, symbols, observations, and sly commentary on the role of art, creation, and imagination in our lives, even when it affects our views of reality. The conclusion, appropriately enigmatic, reflects the changes which occur whenever one’s past must be reconsidered in light of new information, and Mallarino shows here how new information will affect his own life. One of the best books of the year.

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Recognized as one of the most exciting young novelists in Latin America, Santiago Gamboa of Colombia has written a novel which defies easy labeling. Filled with non-stop action and much like a thriller in its ability to generate and maintain suspense, it is also a sociological illustration of crime on a grand scale, a study of political corruption and violence in more than one country, a close look at the interactions of one middle class Colombian family trapped in the complex social milieu of Bogota, the unusual love story of a brother and his nurturing sister who depend on each other for love, and ultimately, a story of innocence and overwhelming guilt, as felt by more than one character. Scenes set in Colombia during the rule of Alvaro Uribe (2002 – 2010) provide insights into that country’s political challenges and the power of its drug trade and are balanced by scenes in Thailand, where the often sadistic interpretation of “justice” bears little relationship to anything most of us have ever known. Ultimately, Gamboa’s wide-ranging plot lines keep the reader moving at a rapid pace, hopping from country to country – from Colombia and Thailand to India, Japan, and Iran, and back.

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A novel so rich it is difficult to describe in anything less than superlatives, Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Sound of Things Falling mesmerizes with its ideas and captivating literary style, while also keeping a reader on the edge of the chair with its unusual plot, fully developed characters, dark themes, and repeating images. Set in Colombia, the novel opens in Bogota in 2009, with Antonio Yamarra, a law professor in his late twenties, reading a newspaper story about a male hippopotamus which had escaped from the untended zoo belonging to former drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was shot and killed in 1993. The hippo, living free on the huge Escobar property for many years, had eventually wreaked havoc in the surrounding countryside until it was shot and killed by a marksman. The newspaper’s image of the slaughtered hippo brings back traumatic memories for Yamarra – real memories involving a former acquaintance, Ricardo Laverde, whom he had known for a few months in 1996, until Laverde’s death later that year, and more subtle images of a family destroyed and some possible connections to Colombia’s on-going war against drugs. Throughout the thirty-year time span of the novel, author Vasquez keeps the novel moving forward. Virtually every image in the novel connects with similar images in other times, and as time passes, the reader comes to accept that “The great thing about Colombia [is] that nobody’s ever alone with their fate.”

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While the head of the ICBM is addressing participants at a literary conference in the King David Hotel, Jeusalem is being shaken by bombs. When the lights go out, the conference simply continues under candlelight. Attending this conference is the novel’s unnamed speaker, “E.H,” now living in Rome in the aftermath of a two-year convalescence from a serious illness. He has written nothing at all during that time, and he has no idea why he has been invited. The list of other participants offers him no clues: one man is an expert in Jewish religious texts and a passionate lover of chess; another, from Colombia, collects stamps and has written a grammar book; a third, a Miami-based, former evangelical pastor, ex-con, and drug addict has written only religious texts; and the lone woman, a porn actress and the founder of the highly successful Eve Studios, has been the star and producer of Screw Me, Screw Me, I Don’t Want this to End. Each of these participants will tell a novella-length story during this conference on biography and memory, and as their stories unwind, the reader begins to wonder if the conference itself is a kind of necropolis, a memorial to mankind’s complex past and its yet-to-be-buried horrors, attended by speakers, each of whom inhabits a personal “necropolis” as s/he revisits the past.

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The acolyte Tancredo, the tormented main character of this wicked satire by Colombian author Evelio Rosero, has a terrible fear of becoming an animal, especially on Thursdays. A young hunchback from Bogota, Tancredo has been living in the rectory of the church since childhood, when he was taken in by Fr. Juan Pablo Almida and given an education with the idea that he would one day enter the church. The biggest problem for Tancredo, however, is that he is worked so hard he has little time for anything else, especially since he has been assigned the task of running the Community Meals Program, Monday through Friday, each day serving a different congregation. The arrival of Fr. San Jose Matamoros del Palacio and the departure of Fr. Almida and his sacristan (Tancredo’s superiors) for a meeting with Don Justiniano, the church’s patron, set the stage for the novella’s turning point, both hilarious and horror-filled. Fr. Matamoros is totally different from Almida and Machado, singing the Mass and inspiring the congregation with his passion. When Fr. Matamoros concludes the service, he is persuaded to stay the night in the presbytery, and when all the electricity goes out, those who have worked much of their lives in and for the church make their confessions, suggesting indirectly some of the sins of Fr. Almida and Celeste Machado. A terrific satire!

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