Oblivion: A Memoir – Hector Abad

Once my sister Vicky, who moved in the highest and richest circles of the city, said to my father, ‘Daddy, people don’t love you in Medellin’ and he answered, ‘Darling, there are lots of people who love me, but you won’t find them in your circle of friends, they’re in a different place, and one day I’ll take you to meet them’.  Vicky says that on the day of the procession that accompanied my fathers funeral through the centre of town, with thousands of people waving white handkerchiefs as they marched, and from windows, and in the cemetery, she suddenly understood at that moment that my father was taking her to meet  people who loved him.

When I reached the point of the book where Hector Abad describes the murder of his father (also Hector Abad) I was reading in a pub.  I put the book down and looked up, tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.  The few people scattered around paid no attention to me, continued on with their conversations, were oblivious to what had just happened in front of me.  I re-read the following pages over and over again, not taking anything in.

Even though you know it’s coming, it’s a raw moment when it happens. I pictured Hector Abad standing up and walking away from his computer or pen and paper, gathering himself together, trudging back to add a few more lines before walking away again.  The sheer eloquence and thoughtfulness of this memoir belies a courage that Abad possibly didn’t realise he had.

When he was younger he seems to have tried to live up to impossible expectations that thought his father had for him. The inexplicable desire for the big red book of sports rules was to me a natural aspect of childhood, those fierce desires from who knows where, but Abad thinks only of how he let his father down.
The memoir has moments of wry humour, particularly where religion is involved, his rejection of the backwards Catholicism of his region of Colombia, fostered by his more progressive father, while at the same time he acknowledges the impact it has on the family through his mother.  This is perhaps at it’s most sharpest when his sister Marta dies, as Abad puts it, the watershed moment of the family’s life.  The strength of the bond of the family is tested to it’s limit through this and yet it is external events that tear into the family later on.

The horrific collapse into brutal violence in Medellin, as well as Colombia as a whole is a shadow that expands over the pages, culminating in a senseless and tragic ending for a man who spent his life working to help people less fortunate than himself, supported by his incredible wife, who built up a business to allow him to do what he wanted without worrying about supporting the family.

At the end of the book, Hector Abad, makes a speech in which he admits he doesn’t think he is the man his father was, yet his father loved him unconditionally and supported him right to the end of his life.
They idolised each other and this book is an intimate and poignant portrait of a family, a relationship and above all a father whose dedication to others did not detract from his devotion to his family and his son.  By the end I couldn’t decide if Abad was trying, finally, to emerge from his fathers shadow, or staying safely within it’s security.  Whichever it is, he should be proud that he has written such a powerful and eloquent book that has painted not only a moving portrait of his fathers’ strength and conviction, but of his own as well.

This struggle gives meaning to their lives.  Living is justified if the world is a little better when one dies, as a result of ones work and efforts.  To live simply for pleasure is a legitimate animal ambition.  But for humans, for Homo Sapiens, it is to be content with very little.

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