Wednesday, 28 July 2010

the informers [juan gabriel vasquez]

The Informers contains stories within stories. When the narrator writes a book about his father's German Jewish friend, Sara Guterman, who arrived in Colombia fleeing from the Nazis, his father reacts viciously, publishing a damning critique. After a heart by-pass operation, the father changes his tune, before the reconciliation is ended when his father's killed in a car accident. However, it transpires that his father had just come from visiting his old friend, Enrique, whose father he denounced forty years ago as a Nazi, and whose family was destroyed as a consequence.

In effect this is a tale of family intrigue and secrets, with the narrator's journey towards the truth assisting him in his mission to escape the shadow of his overpowering father. The book comes lauded with critical acclaim. It is a well constructed text, but suffers from the author's tendency to overwrite and embellish. Succinctly told it could have come in at 200 pages, but instead comes in at 350, and its whimsical asides diminish the potent father-son narrative. Furthermore, the books ends with a historical footnote, explaining the nature of the Colombian blacklists, upon which the book's mystery and drama is predicated. The need for the footnote seems to some extent to point out the book's failure to sufficiently convey their significance within the text itself. Additionally, whilst much play is made of the mystery surrounding the father's action, it still seems puzzling that his son, for all his fascination with the case, never seeks to investigate the causes of his father's seemingly random act of betrayal.

The Informers feels very much like a first novel, full of intriguing ideas, but lacking a certain clarity. It offers a frustratingly restricted insight into wartime Colombia's history, and the way in which it connects to its more recent, violent history. A book full of loose threads, it never quite seems to get to the bottom of the various mysteries it sets out to investigate.

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