I’m the kind of writer who wants to put in a whole universe of my own country into a novel, and I’m very jealous when I see others accomplish this with ease, grace and flair. Juan Gabriel Vásquez juxtaposes truth and fiction in a way which calls into question the legitimacy of our understanding of the truth, and this is something that I’m really interested in. In the universe where anglo considerations of truth/non-truth are deemed most important to the utter defeat of any creativity, while actual lies are being perpetuated in all instances of state and law, a blaze experimentation with truth, conspiracy theories and interrogation of the past is a true breath of fresh air.
Earlier this year I read a book by the other wonderful Hispanic writer, Antonio Muñoz Molina, where he tried to fictionally investigate the mind of the MLK killer, James Earl Ray. While coinciding merely by ways of conspiracy theories attached to big deal assassinations of the past (in case of Vásquez, the two Colombian leftist leaders, Uribe Uribe and Gaitan), the two novels explore the affairs from completely different sides: Molina probing the assassin, Vásquez inquiring from the side of the persecution. However, both books do exactly what we’re supposed to do with history: be creative with it, and ask uncomfortable questions, not just gape into the stagnant abyss. How smart, how beautiful, how necessary.
The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Translated by Anne McLean
Published by Riverhead Books in 2018