2014, 320 p.
I was planning my trip to Colombia, so I decided to seek out some books set in Colombia. This book, which won the Alfaguara Prize in 2011 (one of the most prestigious literary prizes in Spain) and its translation by Anne McLean won the 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. So, it came bearing a hefty reputation!
It thoroughly deserves it. The writing and the translation flow seamlessly, as it shuttles between the drug violence of the 1980s and 1990s Bogota, when the book was set. A rather aimless law professor, Antonia Yamarra strikes up an acquaintance in a billiard hall with ex-con Ricardo Laverde. Standing together in the street outside the billiard parlour, they are shot at. Laverde dies, and Yamarra is injured both physically and psychically. He becomes obsessed with Laverde’s story, and meets up with Laverde’s estranged daughter. Through her he learns that Laverde had been a drug-mule pilot during the 1980s, and she shares with him a cassette tape of a black-box recording that ties together Laverde’s earlier crime and the death of Laverde’s wife. I won’t say any more, because if you read it- and I hope you will- it will spoil the story.
I found this book almost un-put-downable, and the language of both author and translator just swept me away. It’s a page-turner, but it’s also a reflection on fate and death, the ripple effects of violence, and the ease and speed with which events can veer off into other directions. It’s also a sobering look at the violence in Colombia during the 1980s and 1990s, set in a time where the narrator is oblivious to the violence yet to come. At the end of it, I found myself googling the events of the novel, and felt sobered to realize that, while fiction, it is grounded in fact. Perhaps not the best pre-holiday reading, but certainly an excellent book that fully deserves all the praise it garnered.
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library
Read because: I was going to Colombia (not exactly reassuring reading, I must admit)
My rating: 9/10