When Gabriel Santoro's biography is scathingly reviewed by his own father, a public intellectual and famous Bogotá rhetorician, Gabriel could not imagine what had pierced his icy exterior to provoke such a painful reaction. A volume that catalogues the life of Sara Guterman, a longtime family friend and Jewish immigrant, since her arrival in Colombia in the 1930s, A Life in Exile seemed a slim, innocent exercise in recording modern history. But as a devastated Gabriel delves, yet again, into Sara's story, searching for clues to his father's anger, he cannot yet see the sinister secret buried in his research that could destroy his father's exalted reputation and redefine his own.
After his father's mysterious death in a car accident a few years later, Gabriel sets out anew to navigate half a century of half-truths and hidden meanings. With the help of Sara Guterman and his father's young girlfriend, Angelina, layer after shocking layer of Gabriel's world falls away and a complex portrait of his father emerges from the ruins. From the streets of 1940s Bogotá to a strangers doorstep in 1990s Medellín, he unravels the web of doubt, betrayal, and guilt at the core of his fathers life and he wades into a dark, long-silenced period of Colombian history after World War II.
With a taut, riveting narrative and achingly beautiful prose, Juan Gabriel Vásquez delivers an expansive, powerful exploration of the sins of our fathers, of wars devastating psychological costs, and of the inescapability of the past. A novel that has earned Vásquez comparisons to Sebald, Borges, Roth, and Márquez, The Informers heralds the arrival of a major literary talent.
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BookBrowse Review - Kim Kovacs
The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez has received many glowing critical reviews, and for the most part they're well-deserved, as far as they go. The novel is beautifully written and its theme of betrayal and its lingering effects is intricate and wonderfully executed.
It is uncertain, however, whether most readers will find wading through the book's complexities worth their time. I personally found reading it a painfully slow experience and felt its plot was exceptionally difficult to follow. The overall narrator is relating a story told to him by someone else, who at times tells the story from the point of view of a third person. In addition, the author is relating events that occurred to three generations of people in two close-knit families; there are three "fathers" involved and half a dozen characters speaking in the first-person. Finally, events are primarily told in flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks), but these don't unfold chronologically. The three techniques combined make the book remarkably confusing, as one is never sure who is currently the subject of the narrative or the time period under discussion.
The translation has been praised as being faithful to the book while at the same time maintaining the flavor of the language. That may be true, but the overall effect is to reinforce the feeling that one is reading a novel translated from another language. The dialog in particular felt stilted and unnatural to my American mental ear.
Readers who enjoy more esoteric authors such as Don DeLillo or Shirley Hazzard may well find another gem in this book. Those looking for another Carlos Ruiz Zafon, however, will probably be happier giving this one a pass.
"Starred Review. Its intelligence and unsparing tone will hold readers rapt through its many twists and turns. - Publishers Weekly
"An impassioned exploration of how the past erupts into the present and continues to shape our personalities and our fates." - Kirkus Reviews
"As if mature John le Carré had wandered into the narrative labyrinths of Borges." - The Independent (UK)
"A fine and frightening study of how the past preys upon the present, and an absorbing revelation of a little-known wing of the theatre of the Nazi war." - John Banville, Booker Prize winning author of The Sea
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Juan Gabriel Vásquez is a critically acclaimed Colombian writer, translator, and award-winning author of a collection of stories Los Amantes de Todos los Santos, as well as the novels Historia Secreta de Costaguana and The Informers, which has been translated into seven languages. He has translated works by Victor Hugo, E.M Foster and John Hersey, among others, his essay "El arte de la distorsión" won the Premio Nacional Simón Bolívar, and he is a regular columnist for El Espectador, the newspaper of dissent in Bogotá. Educated in Colombia and in Paris at the Sorbonne, he now lives and teaches in Barcelona, Spain with his wife and twin daughters.
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