The Secret History of Costaguana

Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Author, Anne McLean, Translator
Juan Gabriel V%C3%A1squez, trans. from the Spanish by Anne McLean. Riverhead, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59448-803-0
Reviewed on: 04/18/2011
Release date: 06/01/2011
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-101-53524-0
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-101-53394-9
Paperback - 305 pages - 978-1-59448-582-4
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On the day Joseph Conrad dies in England, the Colombian-born José 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 Vásquez (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." José 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 Colón, plans for a strategically imperative canal, a visit by Sarah Bernhardt—and Conrad himself, whose own history is interwoven with the rest. Vásquez 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)
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