I recently finished reading The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, a young-ish Colombian writer. I had never heard of him before, but with the popularity of Bolano, publishers are looking to South America for more literature. The book follows Gabriel Santoro, a journalist living in Bogota, over several different periods in his life. First, he makes up with his famous father after years of not speaking. Santoro had written a book, A Life in Exile, about a family friend who emigrated from Germany right before the war. His father wrote a damning review which caused the breach. When his father has open heart surgery, he comes back to his father only to lose him several months later in a tragic car accident on . After his father’s death, he investigates his father’s last days finding hidden secrets going back 40 years. The entire book looks into the dark secrets of Colombian history.
Now, I have to admit here that I knew very little of Colombian history. I turned to the internet and read up on the colonization followed by independence led by Bolivar, the various civil conflicts including La Violencia, and especially what happened right before and during WWII. Apparently Austrian and Germans who opposed Hitler were treated the same as Nazi sympathizers, but once President Santos sided with the Allies, the Nazi sympathizers were interned and had their property confiscated. This plays a large role in the plot of The Informers. What’s also interesting about this book is how not just this piece of history but what happened after the war, Colombia’s years of violence between two political parties, also influences the story. Vasquez doesn’t tiptoe around it. He wants to explore how a country’s dark history influences its citizens.
I also found it embarrassing how little I knew about South American history. I knew nothing about Colombia until I read this book and though you don’t necessarily need to in order to read it, it certainly helps. The 1994 assassination of Andres Escobar in Medellin for example was mentioned in the novel as a huge event in their history, something that left everyone glued to their televisions for information. There are several theories about why he was killed but regardless this moment lives large in the Colombian mind, at least according to this book, and yet I knew nothing about it. It’s funny how a novel can make you follow these paths.