London, 1903. Joseph Conrad is struggling with his new novel ('I am placing it in South America in a Republic I call Costaguana'). Progress is slow and the great writer needs help from a native of the Caribbean coast of South America. Jose Altamirano, Colombian at birth, who has just arrived in London, answers the great writer's advertisement and ...
London, 1903. Joseph Conrad is struggling with his new novel ('I am placing it in South America in a Republic I call Costaguana'). Progress is slow and the great writer needs help from a native of the Caribbean coast of South America. Jose Altamirano, Colombian at birth, who has just arrived in London, answers the great writer's advertisement and tells him his life story. Jose has been witness to the most horrible things that a person or a country could suffer, and drags with him not just a guilty conscience but a story that has almost destroyed him. But when Nostromo is published the following year Jose is outraged by what he reads: 'You've eliminated me from my own life. You, Joseph Conrad, have robbed me.' I waved the Weekly in the air again, and then threw it down on his desk. 'Here,' I whispered, my back to the thief, 'I do not exist.' The Secret History of Costaguana, the second novel by Juan Gabriel Vasquez to be published in English, is Jose Altamirano's riposte to Joseph Conrad. It is a big novel, tragic and despairing, comic and insightful by turns, told by a bumptious narrator with a score to settle. It is Latin America's post-modern answer to Europe's modernist vision. It is a superb, joyful, thoughtful and rumbustious novel that will establish Juan Gabriel Vasquez's reputation as one of the leading novelists of his generation.
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Publishers Weekly, 2011-04-18 On the day Joseph Conrad dies in England, the Colombian-born Jose Altamirano begins to write, for the edification of his daughter, the true story of his life and country, which were taken, compressed, and repurposed by Conrad in Nostromo. This is the jumping-off point for the imaginative if flawed latest from Vasquez (The Informers), a bristling counternovel that aims to retrieve from Conrad's work two revolutions and the endless series of coups, gunfights, and voyages that characterize Colombia's "convulsive times." Jose begins with the story of his radical, exiled father, Miguel, who he goes to find in Panama. But he finds more than he bargained for: yellow fever outbreaks, the burning of Colon, plans for a strategically imperative canal, a visit by Sarah Bernhardt-and Conrad himself, whose own history is interwoven with the rest. Vasquez is piercing in his attentions to who documents history and how-whether in letters, newspaper articles, folk songs, or literature-but the litany of battles and names captured here essentially smothers the novel's potential and fails to unseat its inspiration, not because this is made of more truth than fiction but because the informed fiction that results dismisses personality, romance, and style for zealous veracity. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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