The secret history of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Juan Vasquez is a Columbian writer ,he studied in Colombia then in France ,living in Belgium then spain in Barcelona where he lives today his first novel was a surprise hit the informers this is his second novel ,he has just published a third in spanish.he has also translated books into spanish .
The book is a imagine tale based round the writing of Conrad’s great latin American novel Nostromo .We meet Jose Altamirano a Colombian ,that has come to live in London ,he has escaped the horrors he saw and witnessed , after the thousand day war in his homeland ,that ran between the two main parties in colombia as the fought over the Panama canal and its riches .Anyway he is introduced to Joseph Conrad and they talk about books and writers  at the time Conrad  is writing a book about revolution and turmoil in latin america ,so he is asked to recount his experiences and his families experiences during the two years of war .These are colourful and traumatic and highly violent at times involving him and his loved ones ,Conrad eagerly takes notes from what he says  ,he opens his heart to Conrad as he trusts him when the meet ,and in doing so is Keen to see what Conrad has woven from his story .Well when he reads the first part work of Nostromo which is based in the imagined land of Costaguana of the title  not his homeland or own town .Jose is shocked he feels he has been removed from his own story .

But the republic does exist ,I said or rather beseeched him .The province does exist .But the silver mine is really a canal ,a canal between two oceans .I know because I know it .I was born in that republic ,I lived in the Province .I am guilty of its misfortunes
Conrad didn’t answer .
Jose finds he has been recast and removed from his tale .

This is a clever juxtapose on the Conrad novel the table flipped a latin american writing about a latin american in london .We find out a lot about Conrad and his novelistic life as a sailor His travels in africa and how he end up as an English writer even thou he was born in Poland .The book shows the danger of telling writers your story and also how British and European writers rewrote and maybe didn’t acknowledge the people who stories they told in their great books of far-flung places .Now this an imagined piece of parallel fiction .But having reread Nostromo and be reviewing it tomorrow you feel Conrad would have used someone like Jose in his writing process to get the hard facts and feel of the place although he imagine Costaguana it could be anyone of half a dozen countries in south america .The book was longlisted for this years IFFP and was translated by Anne Maclean who won last year IFFP prize .


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. parrish
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 19:11:04

    I picked this up from the library today, So will be able to let you know soon hopefully, great review.


  2. Emily Jane
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 20:42:37

    I have not read either book, but this one looks awesome!


  3. Kinna
    May 04, 2011 @ 06:43:14

    How intriguing! Adding this to my wishlist – I think I might have to reread Nostromo afterall.


  4. Richard
    May 21, 2011 @ 02:07:53

    After finally reading The Informers, Stu, I’m now doubly interested in reading this and the Conrad novel at some point. Love how your post emphasizes the duplicity of writers (ha ha!) and how history can be manipulated across continents by the writer with more pull than his sources (even when those sources may be better informed than the more successful one in the public’s eye). Cheers!


  5. Julian Caicedo
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 22:26:16

    In Nostromo, Costaguana feels much more like a mix between Uruguay and Venezuela. A good Latin reader can easily identify features that prove this characterization. The main character, Nostromo (our man, in pidgin Italian) may have been inspired by the legendary Italian hero & adventurer Garibaldi, who spent time in Uruguay). My sense is any country in Latin America may be seen as Conrad’s fictive nation. Thus, a fiction of this sort could be applied to any Latin nation, as it is ambiguous enough, narrative-wise, to cover a whole slice of history & geography. Mr. Vasquez’s work looks, at first sight, like a postmodern exploitation of a Victorian exploitation.


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April 2011


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