Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review: "The Secret History of Costaguana" by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

I think with every book Columbian writer Juan Gabriel Vasquez writes he gets better. I didn’t enjoy his first novel published in The Informers, but his latest novel, 2013’s The Sound of Things Falling is one of the most brilliant books in recent memory, and now, The Secret History of Costaguana, a book published here that didn’t have the fanfare of his other two books, improves greatly on The Informers lack of direction, but doesn’t quite reach the level of real-life horrors that made The Sound of Things Falling so great. Even if you have not read the book that is central to this one, Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo, which I have not, this is still an interesting and readable tale of personal history clouding our judgment of the future, as well as the mistakes we make that are impossible to make up for. The story, written in a way that reminded me of Aravind Adiga’s Balram Halwai, is told to the reader, and later we found to the narrator’s daughter, by one Jose Altamirano, a man whose connection to Columbia’s history is intricate, sad and rather brutal, whose claim to fame, as he thinks, is inspiring Conrad to write one of his most well-known books. While that is Jose’s main interest in telling his story, he is more focused on the history of his family, and atoning for the sins of cowardice, the details of which we find out towards the end of the novel. The one weakness in this book is it’s myriad of historical details, which can be too dense for such a book that has truly interesting family dram, from Jose’s father, caught up in an even great history than his son, Jose’s conception and birth, and the many ways, in Jose’s eyes that he and Conrad are connected throughout their respective lives. It isn’t perfect, but it shows the promise of a fiercely original writer in the midst of sharpening his tools.

Rating: 4/5

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