The Secret History of Costaguana
feels more like oral history than fiction, as the first-person narrator José Altamirano describes the events that led up to his disclosure of his country's history to Joseph Conrad. The premise of the novel is a clever one: when José Altamirano realizes that he has been duped by Joseph Conrad (who steals Altamirano's life story to create a novel) Altamirano fights back, offering his own version of historical events. His "version" is the novel A Secret History of Costaguana
. Here, fiction reflects real life; Joseph Conrad did write a Latin American novel called Nostromo
, which Vásquez declares is "the best novel written about Latin America outside of the Spanish language." Still, despite his literary talent, Conrad did not write the story well enough and - here enters the storytelling - José Altamirano will put...
Beyond the Book
Juan Gabriel Vásquez's novel, The Secret History of Costagauna
, centers on the making of the Panama Canal. Constructed between 1904 and 1914, the Panama Canal is a vital shipping route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Though it only took ten years to construct the current canal, the idea for a waterway connecting the two oceans dates back to the 16th century. The route around the horn of South America was long, arduous, and costly. If it were possible to create a water route over the thin isthmus between North and South America, a great deal of money and time could be saved....