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La forma de las ruinas A sweeping tale of conspiracy theories assassinations and twisted obsessions the much anticipated masterpiece from Juan Gabriel Vasuez The Shape of the Ruins is a masterly story of conspiracy political obsession and literary investigation When a man is arrested at a museum for attempting to steal the bullet ridden suit of a murdered Colombian politician few notice But soon this thwarted theft takes on greater meaning as it becomes a thread in a widening web of popular fixations with conspiracy theories assassinations and historical secrets; and it haunts those who feel that only they know the real truth behind these killingsThis novel explores the darkest moments of a country's past and brings to life the ways in which past violence shapes our present lives A compulsive read beautiful and profound eerily relevant to our times and deeply personal The Shape of the Ruins is a tour de force story by a master at uncovering the incisive wounds of our memories I read this book due to its inclusion on the 2019 Man Booker International Shortlist a list I have found distinctly underwhelming particularly when its seems a common view from those who follow translated fiction prizes closely that the shortlist this year was much the best pick of a weaker longlistPaul has already written an extremely comprehensive review of the book here which gives much of the historical context to the novel as well as explaining its structurehttpswwwgoodreadscomreviewshowThis excellent review in the LA Review of Books sums up some of my issues with the bookhttpslareviewofbooksorgarticlerI read the book in a single sitting which I think should work to the book's benefit as it makes it much easier to follow the two main assassinations to spot the links between them to be able to pick up the various witnesses and alleged incidents around the Uribe Uribe assassination and to immerse oneself in the world of conspiracy theoriesIn practice it was not an experience I particularly enjoyed I do not find conspiracy theories appealing and too much of the first part of the book took place in them and the lengthy section of the novel which effectively ends up as a fairly ordinarily written reproduction of a historical account of the supposed truth around the Uribe Uribe murders was simply tediousWhile there may be lots to like in this novel the decision to include this section has cost it 4 stars in my view Bogotá Colombia epicenter for Juan Gabriel Vásuez's sprawling masterpiece The Shape of the RuinsAssassinations conspiracy theories obsessions friends family births deaths memorials literary references they're all here most especially books and writers since the narrator of this multifaceted saga is none other than Juan Gabriel Vásuez that's right the Colombian author has written himself into his own novel Readers are in for a special treat for three reasons 1 translator Anne McLean renders the Spanish into clear fluid English; 2 many photos and documents mentioned in the story are included; 3 appeal of the book itself large trim size readable print uality paper Thank you Riverhead BooksRight in the opening chapter we're served a sumptuous feast of major players important themes and key ideas that will be expanded and embellished upon as we move through the tale's 500 pages among their numberCarlos Carballo It's 2014 and Juan Gabriel watches the TV screen flash a news headline Carlos Carballo arrested at the former home now museum of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán for attempting to steal the serge suit the liberal politician wore the day of his assassination a suit on display in a glass case Unlike thousands of TV viewers Juan Gabriel isn't at all surprised since the 41 year old author first met Carballo face to face ten years ago and is well aware of Carballo's obsession Like a match set to a keg of dynamite the arrest of Carballo ignites Juan Gabriel's memory enough explosive recollections to propel the author to chronicle the story we're about to read Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Charismatic firebrand political leader loved by the people and the man likely to become Colombia's next president Gaitán was assassinated while walking down a busy sidewalk in Bogotá on April 9 1948 This event proved monumental resulting in not only riots mass killings and the burning of much of the city but for ten years thereafter the political scene in the country spiraled down into a bloodbath known as La Violencia which in turn was one of the factors that led to guerrilla insurrections death suads and those horrific Pablo Escobar years Fiery Jorge Eliécer Gaitán 1903 1948 Assassin Juan Roa Sierra pictured in the upper right Juan Roa Sierra The assassin who shot and killed Gaitán was a young Colombian by the name of Juan Roa Sierra Ah those demented loners who strike out on their own But wait could things possibly be complex? We'll never know because Sierra was attacked and killed by a mob within minutes Why? Well as reported by none other than Gabriel Garcia Máruez who happened to be in vicinity on that fateful April afternoon a tall man wearing an irreproachable gray suit as if he were going to a wedding incited the crowd to bloody violence and then was picked up by a new car as soon as the assassin's corpse was dragged away And from then on that tall well dressed man appears to have been erased from history forever Garcia Máruez recollects many years later that it occurred to him the man had managed to have a false assassin killed in order to protect the identity of the real one Does the fate of Gaitán's assassin ring any bells? How about Lee Harvey Oswald? Many Colombians particularly a conspiracy fanatic like Carlos Carballo have not failed to make the connection and that's understatementFrancisco Benevides A friend of Juan Gabriel a physician whose father was the man who conducted the forensics on Jorge Eliécer Gaitán's corpse Francisco Benevides and Carlos Carballo go back Benevides isn't exactly as obsessed as Carballo when it comes to conspiracy theories but it's close Benevides is also a lover of literature and thus has many reasons to cultivate Juan Gabriel's friendship Hospital Drama In the opening pages of the novel Juan Gabriel recounts his time at a hospital with his dear wife who must be cared for since she will be giving birth prematurely to twin baby girls True Juan Gabriel loves his family however the swirl of conversations and revelations in his home city of Bogotá acts like a powerful magnet and Juan Gabriel uickly succumbs to its force At one point some weeks after leaving the hospital Juan Gabriel's wife confronts him directly What's happening to us is important You have to pay attention We still haven't come out the other side there are still lots of things that could go wrong and the girls depend on us I need you to be with me concentrated on this and you seem interested in what a paranoid madman says Did I mention Juan Gabriel's tale contains a layering of many dimensions back there? Oh yes the following eight chapter detonate with a fiesta of themes and threads historical political social cultural literary personal Here's a pair I found especially captivatingNovelist Narrator In the course of his narrative Juan Gabriel refers directly to his past novels about a woman from Germany The Informers his novel about Panama The Secret History of Costaguana about the Pablo Escobar years The Sound of Things Falling the novel he was working on Reputations Juan Gabriel also alludes to a string of other novelists and their books Georges Perec Vladimir Nabokov Julio Cortázar Juan Rulfo Juan Carlos Onetti F Scott Fitzgerald Malcolm Lowry and freuent inclusion of Gabriel Garcia Máruez and Jorge Luis Borges for example Then I remembered The Modesty of History an essay by Borges that I'd always liked and that there in that man's apartment seemed to acuire a mysterious pertinence for in it Borges sustains that the most important dates in history might not be the ones that appear in books but other hidden or private dates This literary element adds real sparkle and depth to the tale not only to have a literary man as narrator but to have Juan Gabriel himself a zesty enhancement Rafael Humberto Moreno Durán Juan Gabriel attends the memorial service for one of the most notable novelists of his generation a writer known to his friends Juan Gabriel among their number as RH Following the service still in the church guess who pops up? Carlos Carballo collars Juan Gabriel and insists on telling him how RH spoke in an interview about Orson Wells' visit to Bogotá and how he Carballo proposed a book to RH a book that could be written when he Carballo fed RH tantalizing information revolving around the assassination of Gaitán Carballo goes on to say that RH agreed to write the book but couldn't because of his illness Carballo continues speaking relating that RH told him he knows the writer who could and should write the book Juan Garcia Vasuez Now the plot really thickens twists and begins dancing the cumbia Colombian novelist Rafael Humberto Moreno Durán 1945 2005So the uestion poses itself Did Juan Gabriel Vásuez finally agree to write the book proposed by Carlos Carbillo a fictional character of his own creation? The answer is 'yes' our narratorauthor did write that book a book in the form of a novel the very novel under review a novel entitled The Shape of the Ruins Read all about it the tale is spectacular or in Spanish espectacular Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásuez born 1973 Delighted to see this now on the MBI 2019 long list there are truths that don't happen in those places truths that nobody writes down because they're invisible There are millions of things that happen in special places they are places that are not within the reach of historians or journalists They are not invented places they are not fictions they are very real as real as anything told in the newspapers But they don't survive They stay there without anybody to tell them This is a marvellous book but strangely for me it's hard to put my finger precisely on what makes it so powerful and ultimately moving Straddling that contested area between fact and fiction where the narrator shares the name of the author this certainly has the postmodern feel of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum crossed with the historical self consciousness of Binet's HHhH I'm confident that readers better versed in Latin American literature than I am will spot other influences and literary relationshipsOn one level this narrates key episodes in the C20th history of Columbia via especially two assassinations of Leftist leaders Alongside this however are richer veins that meditate on history and story telling on the interpenetration of past and present on inheritances in personal national and even wider terms Vásuez writes unflashy precise and intelligent prose a shout out too to the translator and the stories that unfurl are uietly gripping Inevitably this isn't linear but Vásuez keeps his histories circulating through levels of narratives stories embedded within stories not doing that cheap trick of flitting around between time periods that every other novel seems to performThe way this is put together is masterful as we finally along with the narrator see the shape of the book we've been reading But it's also exceptional at the local level 'they are simply human remains ruins yes the ruins of noble men'Deeply political deeply humane deeply literary a nexus of ideas meld together to form a narrative of distinction and significance In some ways the conclusion could be profoundly pessimistic 'because nothing has changed here in centuries of existence and never will change' and yet the very power of words serves to undermine that desolation 'he wanted me to make a mausoleum of words where his father could dwell and he also wanted the last two hours his father lived to be documented just as he understood them because that way his father would not just have a place in the world but would have played a part in history'Many thanks to uercus for an ARC via NetGalley I can honestly say I've never read a book uite like this It's a mix of historical biography meta fiction and literary mystery The author inserts himself—or at least a fictional version of himself—into the narrative and describes how he allegedly got sucked into researching investigating a conspiracy theory about the assassination of a high profile Colombian leader in the 1940s The novel's structure is a bit like a maze with different twists and turns not just plot wise but also shifting in and out of different genres I would be lying if I didn't say the middle section was uite arduous to get through and yet I didn't ever want to give up It was a very rewarding read but I wasn't expecting a book that at one point was a straight up account of 20th century Colombian history It isn't a bad thing at all just a very different experience than I was expectingThere were so many passages I underlined or noted during my reading and I actually could see myself revisiting this one again in the future I was tempted to start it over again once I finished not necessarily because I loved it but because by the end I had such a better grasp on the book that a second reading I presume would be easier to follow and even rewarding But maybe someday I will come back to this one again and I will definitely check out of this author's work

  • Hardcover
  • 528 pages
  • La forma de las ruinas
  • Juan Gabriel Vásquez
  • 19 May 2015
  • 9780735211148

About the Author: Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Estudió Derecho en su ciudad natal en la Universidad del Rosario y después de graduarse partió a Francia donde se instaló en París 1996 99 Allí en La Sorbona se doctoró en Literatura Latinoamericana Luego se mudó a un peueño pueblo de la región de Ardenas en Bélgica Después de un año de vivir allí Vásuez se instaló en Barcelona Actualmente vive cerca a su ciudad natal en ColombiaVá

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