August 2009

A son’s quest

By Juan Gabriel Vasquez
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A father’s criticism of his son, when presented privately, can be devastating enough. The words “I’m disappointed in you” can wrap themselves around a son’s mind and heart so that all decisions henceforth must filter through that statement in fear of what words will follow those haunting four. But familial criticism in the public forum proves to be even more disastrous for Gabriel Santoro after he publishes a novel about a family friend’s 1938 immigration from Germany to Colombia—and his father, a famous professor of rhetoric, gives it a contemptuous review.

Gabriel’s anger over his father’s public denouncement of his novel sends him on a quest to work loose his father’s reasons for doing so. In the course of his research, Gabriel finds that people are not necessarily who they present themselves to be, and that his father harbors a secret that is both disquieting and illuminating.

Juan Gabriel Vázquez’s The Informers presents history as something others have said to be true; fact is but a person’s insistence that things happened as they claimed. Each character in this thoughtful, complex novel truly believes the details of certain events transpired in the way he or she chooses to remember. The story is framed by the U.S. State Department’s blacklists during WWII, and Vázquez uses this practice as a parallel for the personally concealed blacklist—thoughts that are never made public but are still devastating.

Vázquez is an excellent writer and a fine storyteller. By presenting The Informers as his narrator’s second novel—Gabriel’s attempt to mend his eminent father’s reputation with truth, good or bad, following the posthumous airing of his dirty laundry—the author reinforces the idea that there are stories within stories and there are secrets huddling inside spoken words. We come to realize that what we are told is not always truth, and taking people at their word carries with it the risk of being uninformed after all.

Katie Lewis writes from Nashville.

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The Informers

The Informers

By Juan Gabriel Vasquez
ISBN 9781594488788

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