It was a black tired-looking German shepherd with a white mark on his tail. He noticed my presence, raised his ears and looked at me without interest; then he walked a couple of times around a mango tree, his nose to the ground and tail stuck to his ribs like a feather duster, and finally lay down beside the trunk and began licking a paw. I felt sorry for him: his fur was not designed for this climate.
Well, I wanted to like this. I really really really wanted to like it. But I’ve never picked it up for some reason. Until now. So I took it on holiday with me, and I thought, let’s see, I can get down by the pool, or on the beach and just gorge on it.
Only I didn’t. I put it down at every opportunity, I used any excuse to stop after a few pages, a few paragraphs, a few lines.
I’m not entirely sure I can say why. I know I struggled with the narrator, Antonio Yammara. I didn’t like him at all, and yet I guess being shot for seemingly no reason at all can make a person like that, I literally have no concept of what that is like. But I’m not sure that was it, I’ve had characters I’ve not liked before (I’ve been trying to think if I’ve had narrators I didn’t like before) so not sure why Yammara should be any different. But coupled with Vasquez’s prose, it just left me cold. While I normally make notes as I read I had nothing for this, by the end I felt like I was powering through it just to finish.
And yet I’m not sure it was the prose alone. I actually enjoyed the story of Ricardo Laverde, and that made the book seem alive, but as soon as it switched back to Yammara I switched off. It’s a shame because it paints a poignant picture of Colombia before and during the reign of cocaine that has terrorised the population for so long, and indeed Yammara’s fascination with Laverde is tied in his desire to understand what happened, and why it happened, why he has become what he has become. Strangely I wanted it to end differently. I could understand why Aura did what she did, yet at the same time in my head I accused of her of not being supportive and understanding, which, perhaps is an accusation that I can point to myself.
I will try another Juan Gabriel Vásquez book, I want to find some new Latin American authors that I can read with the same joy as Garcia Marquez, Jorge Amado, Vargas Llosa and others, hopefully Vásquez can still be that.
Or perhaps there was another reason.
Because keeping Aura and Leticia out of Las Acacias, remote from Maya Fritts and her tale and her documents, distant therefore from the truth about Ricardo Laverde, was to protect their purity or rather avoid their contamination, the contanimation that Id suffered one afternoon in 1996 the causes of which I’d barely begun to understand now, the unsuspected intensity of which was just now beginning to emerge like an object falling from the sky.