MLA Gold Award Site

Summary and book reviews of The Secret History of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

The Secret History of Costaguana

A Novel

by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

The Secret History of Costaguana
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2011, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2012, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Tragic and despairing, comic and insightful, The Secret History of Costaguana is a masterpiece of historical invention.

In the early twentieth century, a struggling Joseph Conrad wrote his great novel, Nostromo, about a South American republic he named Costaguana. It was inspired by the geography and history of Colombia, where Conrad spent only a few days. But in Juan Gabriel Vásquez's novel The Secret History of Costaguana, we uncover the hidden source - and one of the great literary thefts.

On the day of Joseph Conrad's death in 1924, the Colombian-born José Altamirano begins to write and cannot stop. Many years before, he confessed to Conrad his life's every delicious detail - from his country's heroic revolutions to his darkest solitary moments. Conrad stole them all. Now Conrad is dead, but the slate is by no means clear - Nostromo will live on, and Altamirano must write himself back into existence. As the destinies of real empires collide with the murky realities of imagined ones, Vásquez takes us from a flourishing twentieth-century London to the lawless fury of a blooming Panama and back.

Tragic and despairing, comic and insightful, The Secret History of Costaguana is a masterpiece of historical invention. It will secure Juan Gabriel Vásquez's place among the most original and exuberantly talented novelists working today.

Excerpt
The Secret History of Costaguana

Let's just come right out and say it: the man has died. No, that won't do. I'll be more precise: the Novelist (with a capital N) has died. You all know who I mean. Don't you? Well, I'll try again: the Great English Novelist has died. The Great English Novelist - Polish by birth, sailor before he became a writer - has died. The Great English-language Novelist - Polish by birth, sailor before he became a writer, who went from failed suicide to living classic, from common gunrunner to Jewel of the British Crown - has died. Ladies and gentlemen: Joseph Conrad has died. I receive the news familiarly, as one might receive an old friend, then realize, not without some sadness, that I've spent my whole life waiting for it.

I begin writing this with all the London broadsheets (their microscopic print, their uneven, narrow columns) spread out over my green leather desktop. Through the press, which has played such diverse roles over the course of my ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse

The Secret History of Costaguana is a brilliant exploration of how stories and histories are told and of how one man's version of events is not another's. Fans of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Ilosa will enjoy Juan Gabriel Vásquez's multi-layered, anguished tale - a story that seeks to understand the inheritances of history.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (899 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Vásquez is piercing in his attentions to who documents history and how... but the litany of battles and names captured here essentially smothers the novel's potential and fails to unseat its inspiration...

Library Journal

Not all readers have the background to grasp Vásquez's premise, but the descriptions here, particularly of the two attempts to build the Panama Canal, are very entertaining.

Kirkus Reviews

To read this novel is to enter a Borgesian rabbit hole - it's a fiction that purports to tell the truth obscured by another fiction - yet its strangeness helps make it both brave and engaging.

Author Blurb Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
A bold historical novel from one of the most original new voices of Latin American literature.

Reader Reviews
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

The Panama Canal

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.

Panama Canal map 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. There were discussions and some rudimentary attempts, but construction of a canal did not start in earnest until 1881 under the direction of ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Secret History of Costaguana, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Loney
    The Loney
    by Andrew Hurley
    Landscape can be a writer's best friend. Whether it's the mountains of England's lake...
  • Book Jacket: The Mirror Thief
    The Mirror Thief
    by Martin Seay
    It is easy to see why Martin Seay's debut novel, The Mirror Thief, has been compared to David ...
  • Book Jacket: The Association of Small Bombs
    The Association of Small Bombs
    by Karan Mahajan
    The Association of Small Bombs is a fictional story that revolves around an actual 1996 car bombing ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Alaskan Laundry
    by Brendan Jones

    A fresh debut novel about a young woman who moves to Alaska and finds herself through the hard work of fishing.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Win this book!
Win The Children

From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary

The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.

Enter

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart

An enthralling novel based on the forgotten true adventures of one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Word Play

Solve this clue:

I I A Greek T M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.