Saturday, 29 December 2018

@amreading Juan Gabriel Vasquez, THE SHAPE OF THE RUINS

This is a novel about conspiracy theories involving the assassination of two Colombian politicians. The country’s turbulent history is interwoven with the present life of the author – real or fiction. It’s hard to tell them apart, but that is the message of the novel.

Even more interesting to me is the author’s take on his own mission as a writer:

I found myself wondering aloud how I’ve come to know these things I might be better off not knowing: how I had come to spend so much time thinking about these dead people, living with them, talking to them, listening to their regrets and regretting, in turn, not being able to do anything to alleviate their suffering. Learning the stories circulating about their assassination set in motion a frightful mechanism that would only end with this book: this book written in atonement for crimes that, although I did not commit them, I have ended up inheriting.

Yes, I think we can’t disengage from the history of our country. But for some exploring history is a hobby, the same as playing chess or bridge for other people, or doing crossword puzzles, or knitting, or stamp-collecting. But they are a dying breed, defeated by the implacable amnesia that has always stifled this poor country.

 Some professional historians are able to infuse their accounts with life, filling each of the phrases with precision that made the author seem more like a medium in a spiritualism session.

I accept that in my relationship with such things there is an aspect of fascination or fetishism, and also something (impossible to deny) of an ancient superstition: I know that some part of me sees them and has always seen them as relics, and that’s why the cult in which believers profess to a splinter of wood from the cross of their Lord…has never seemed incomprehensible or, much less, exotic to me.

I don’t know when I started to realize that my country’s past was incomprehensible and obscure to me, a real shadowy terrain…and that is why he decided to write about it. You don’t write about what you know and understand, and much less do you write because you know and understand, but because you understand that all your knowledge and comprehension is false, a mirage and an illusion, so your books are not, could not be, more than an elaborate display of disorientation: extensive and multifarious declarations of perplexity.