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Juan Gabriel Vásquez: Los informantes (2004)

Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s 2004 novel Los informantes kicked up quite a fuss among literary critics when it came out. By and large, they gobbled it up.  I think I came across it at Punto y Coma, the wonderful Spanish-language bookshop hidden away in a little street of the EU quarter in Brussels (It’s brilliant. It’s become one of my must-gos when I’m in Brussels.) I didn’t buy it at the time, but I did download it onto my Kindle shortly after.

Los informantes is narrated by Gabriel Santoro, a current affairs journalist and writer, son of Gabriel Santoro, a famous rhetorics professor and is set in Colombia. The relationship between father and son is fraught with mutual disappointments, and the present, which forms the backdrop of the novel, finds Gabriel Jr. trying to come to terms with this relationship as his father first suffers from a heart attack and then passes away.

One of the issues standing between the two is a book Gabriel Jr. wrote about Sara Guterman, a friend and lover-that-never-was (or maybe she was? This question isn’t conclusively answered) of his father’s. Sara is of German Jewish descent and emigrated to in the 1930s. In the 1930s and 40s, however, the German emigrant community in Colombia was an interesting mixture, comprised of both emigrant Jews, opponents of the Nazi regime, and… Nazis. Drawn together by a common language and culture and common problems in adapting to their new home, Los informantes portrays them as living in a strange limbo that oscillated between friendship and deep-seated mutual suspicion.

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