Poisoned pigeons

I haven’t read much from, nor do I know much about, Colombia. Apparently aging fathers can resemble one another across hemispheric borders. From Juan Gabriel Vasquez’ The Informers:

His voice, thin and raspy as a paper kite, was barely audible; in a single sentence, my father managed to complain, draw attention to himself like a badly brought-up teenager, and cast the authority of his tantrums over the atmosphere: if there were things he preferred to forget, it was incomprehensible and even obscene that others might want to remember them. And for the rest of the afternoon, the company of that bitter and pale old man, which would have annoyed me in a stranger, struck me as pitiful and pathetic. That’s what I discovered that afternoon: my father was incapable of wrestling with the facts of his own life; the notion of his past bothered him like a raspberry seed stuck in the teeth. Those conversations recorded five years earlier (about things that had happened half a century ago) damaged him from within and sucked at his blood, left him as exhausted as if he’d just come out of the operating room.

— Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Informers, trans. Anne McLean, pp 77-78.

I felt that there were maybe too many layers, too many times a story was told to the narrator rather than by him, and that the book is about betrayals (and suggests that any tale is a betrayal, any teller an informer) doesn’t excuse the confusion. Still, a book with many rewards.

Vásquez had this to say in a column for the PEN Center:

I had never before written about my country, mainly because I didn’t understand it, and I had grown up believing one should only write about what one knows. . . . Sometime in the middle of 2002 I realized how mistaken that presumptuous little piece of advice was. I realized not understanding something is perhaps the best reason a novelist can have to write about it; I realized my favourite novels were, with rare exceptions, novels of enquiry, of investigation. From Conrad’s Under Western Eyes to Sebald’s The Emigrants, certain works of fiction give us the sense that in writing them authors are entering an undiscovered country.


One thought on “Poisoned pigeons

  1. Cara dB says:

    I’m guessing you’re familiar with Tom Lehrer?

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