I lose count of the number of times it happens. A succession of seemingly completely different books provide subtle links to each other as one book hands over the baton to the next and we've had no relay handover disasters with The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez and published by Bloomsbury. I might see how many laps we can manage without dropping the baton over the next few reads.Before I say a word about the book I have to comment on the cover. It's good, monochrome, the crowded street with the figures circled in red, but there's something puzzling me.
Could someone explain? Why has that woman, top right, got a basket on her head?
Is that a dog she's carrying?
Is it the dog's basket?
Is this normal for Columbia perhaps?
I haven't got to the bottom of that and nothing in the book seems to explain it but enough of that here's the link to Resistance.
As Britain is being invaded in Owen Sheer's book, over in Colombia the same war is being played out in protagonist Gabriel Santoro's book embedded within the novel, A Life In Exile, written to try and explain the wartime plight of a German Jewish woman and friend of the family who fled Germany in 1938. Gabriel's father, a highly respected university professor gives his son's book a scathing and denigrating review and Gabriel junior determines to discover the reasons.
I'm not very hot on Latin-American fiction beyond some Borges and a bit of Marquez with some Allende added in so I suspect there are themes and trends here that have passed me by, yet every ignoble theme resides in this book. Dishonour, disgrace, treachery, betrayal, retribution and revenge as the existence of the wartime blacklists exposes the "duplicity and guilt at the heart of Colombian society in the Second World War."
Thinking he was writing a brilliant and necessary work of literature, Gabriel is rocked by the effect of his book on his father,
'...in manuscript, these pages had appeared so pacific and neutral that I never considered them capable of making anyone uncomforatble, much less of provoking disputes; the printed and bound version, however, was a sort of Molotov cocktail ready to land in the middle of the Santoro household.'
Gabriel senior doesn't mince his words as he lambasts his own son,
'I cannot prevent other people from speaking if they believe it useful or necessary. So I shall not speak out against the parasites, those creatures who use the experience of those of us who have preferred not to speak for their own ends. I shall not speak of those second-rate writers, many of whom have not even been born when the war ended, who now go round talking about the war...they do not know the courage of those who have preferred not to speak.'
Through Anne McClean's excellent English translation, events of the past unfold and merge with the present as slowly,
piece by piece the jigsaw takes shape and both Gabriels are forced to
face unpleasant truths about the past. The impact of 'the probable
embezzlement of other people's lives' was cleverly paced to keep me
slightly on edge as the inevitable unfolded and father and son seek a
way through the unexploded bombshells of the past. Bombshells which
once dug up have to be examined,explained and somehow defused and it is a strange and
haunting conclusion that is finally reached.
In the end there may be no winners and perhaps no losers, the lifetimes of guilt just passed from one to the next, bequeathed to successive generations as each person tries to assuage his conscience and his past. Everyone ultimately traumatised by the far-reaching and seemingly endlessly present tendrils of Nazi Germany and still it all provides an endless river of ideas for authors. A source which Juan Gabriel Vasquez has astutely manipulated from both within and without, I suspect rightly earning his place as one of South America's most promising young writers.