Overview

From the author of The Sound of Things Falling, a "brilliant new novel" (New York Times Book Review) and one of the most buzzed about books of the year!

"One of the most original new voices of Latin American literature." -- Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

When Gabriel Santoro's book is scathingly reviewed by his own father, a famous Bogotá ...
See more details below
The Informers

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$12.99
BN.com price

Overview

From the author of The Sound of Things Falling, a "brilliant new novel" (New York Times Book Review) and one of the most buzzed about books of the year!

"One of the most original new voices of Latin American literature." -- Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

When Gabriel Santoro's book is scathingly reviewed by his own father, a famous Bogotá rhetorician, Gabriel is devastated. Cataloguing the life of longtime family friend Sara Guterman, a Jewish German immigrant who escaped to Colombia during the 1930s, Gabriel's book seemed an innocent attempt to preserve a piece of his country's rapidly vanishing past. But as Gabriel pours over his research looking for clues to his father's anger, he discovers a sinister secret locked in the pages. After his father's death, and with the help of Sara Guterman and his father's girlfriend, Angelina, Gabriel peels back layer after shocking layer of family history-from the streets of 1940s Bogotá to a stranger's doorstep in 1990s Medellín-to reveal a hidden portrait of their past-dark, complex, and inescapable.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez has been hailed as one of the leading writers of his generation, compared to Borges, John Le Carre, Joseph Conrad and W. G. Sebald.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Nothing works out quite the way anyone expects, which is just one of the many strengths of this remarkable novel. It deals with big universal themes—betrayal, the war between fathers and sons, cowardice and valor—and big particular ones: the mix of peoples and histories that is Latin America, the painful political and social history under which Colombia suffers, the poison that Nazism spread throughout the world. It is the best work of literary fiction to come my way since 2005, with the publication of Olga Grushin's The Dream Life of Sukhanov (also, interestingly enough, about betrayal), and into the bargain it is immensely entertaining, with twists and turns of plot that yield great satisfaction.
—The Washington Post
Larry Rohter
The twin themes of betrayal and atonement in recall Conrad, specifically Under Western Eyes…Two years ago Mr. Vasquez was included on a list of the most "important" Latin American writers under 40, nominated by more than 2,000 authors, literary agents, librarians, editors and critics. The Informers alone justifies their choice, given its challenging subject and psychological depth
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Betrayals public and private collide in Colombian author Vásquez's first novel to appear in the States, a crushing and beautifully tricky novel. Gabriel Santoro's publication of a book about a family friend, Sara Guterman, a German Jew who arrived in Colombia with her family in 1938, unexpectedly enrages his father, a famous professor of rhetoric (also named Gabriel Santoro) who prefers that the past remain forgotten. When the elder Gabriel has a change of heart (after a health crisis), it coincides with a sexual relationship he begins with Angelina, his physiotherapist. But after Gabriel confesses to Angelina long-held past transgressions shortly before his accidental death, Angelina turns against Gabriel on national television while the younger Gabriel watches. The younger Gabriel then delves into Sara's memories of wartime intrigue and anguish revolving around suspected Nazi sympathizers. But Gabriel's lust for the truth makes him susceptible to committing harsh betrayals of his own. In Vásquez's intricate narrative, morality is ambiguous and as treacherous as the early-1990s Bogotá backdrop, and its intelligence and unsparing tone will hold readers rapt through its many twists and turns. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Jonathan Yardley
Remarkable...[The Informers] is the best work of literary fiction to come my way since 2005...and into the bargain it is immensely entertaining, with twists and turns of plot that yield great satisfaction.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
[A] straight-ahead, old-fashioned narrative... [T]he career of Juan Gabriel Vásquez...is off to a notable start.
The Washington Post
The narrator of this superb novel, 30-year-old Gabriel Santoro, recalls being required to read "Leaf Storm," the first novel by Gabriel García Márquez, when he was a schoolboy. No doubt this was common practice in Colombia during the 1970s, as the country's greatest writer rose to the preeminent international stature he now enjoys, but I suspect there is more to it than that. Author Juan Gabriel Vásquez is a 36-year-old Colombian who obviously is paying homage to his great predecessor and, perhaps, calling attention to the nationality that both writers share, though in most respects their work is quite dissimilar.

Vásquez is an experienced teacher, translator and writer, but "The Informers" is the first of his books to be published in the United States in an English translation. He has been handsomely served by his translator, Anne McLean, who renders his lean yet textured prose in lucid English that manages to echo its Spanish roots. That we have had to wait so long to read him here is a mystery to me, and a disappointment. But "The Informers" not merely makes up for lost time, it raises the hope that his earlier books will in time find their way to this country.
—Jonathan Yardley
The Financial Times
Unlike anything written by his Latin American contemporaries...The Informers deserves to be read...[O]ne of this year's outstanding books.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
To read The Informers is to enjoy the shock of new talent... [Vásquez's] novel is subtle, surprising and deeply pleasurable, with razors secreted among its pages.
Kirkus Reviews
Leisurely paced, intensely focused tale of collusion and intrigue, spotlighting Colombia's German community before, during and after World War II. In 1988, journalist Gabriel Santoro published A Life in Exile, the story of a Jewish refugee who fled to Colombia in the years preceding the war. Gabriel wrote the book, he tells us, to give some perspective on the struggles of such emigrants. His motives didn't impress his father, also named Gabriel, a leading intellectual in Bogota with a particular contempt for the shallowness and ephemerality of journalism. Father wrote a scathing review of the book that went far beyond the bounds of necessity or good taste and raised questions about his psychological need to make such an extreme condemnation. Perhaps he has something to hide? When he phones his son three years later, in the novel's opening pages, is he trying to make amends? Several other events, past and present, conspire to pique the journalist's curiosity. Why did Konrad Deresser, another member of the German-Colombian community, commit suicide shortly after the war when his son Enrique denounced him as a collaborator? Is the 1991 death of Santoro pere in a car crash really an accident? Along the way we meet a range of characters, some well integrated into Colombian culture despite their German roots, others more blatant and unabashed about their support for Hitler's policies even after the war. With both journalistic and personal reasons to pursue the truth, the younger Santoro tracks down Enrique, though he first has to endure the opprobrium of Enrique's son Sergio, as well as Angelina, the older Gabriel's mistress and perhaps betrayer. An impassioned exploration of how the pasterupts into the present and continues to shape our personalities and our fates.
From the Publisher
"Remarkable...[The Informers] is the best work of literary fiction to come my way since 2005...and into the bargain it is immensely entertaining, with twists and turns of plot that yield great satisfaction."
-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

"[A] straight-ahead, old-fashioned narrative... [T]he career of Juan Gabriel Vásquez...is off to a notable start."
-The New York Times

"To read The Informers is to enjoy the shock of new talent... [Vásquez's] novel is subtle, surprising and deeply pleasurable, with razors secreted among its pages."
-The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Unlike anything written by his Latin American contemporaries...The Informers deserves to be read...[O]ne of this year's outstanding books."
-The Financial Times

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101105160
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/30/2009
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 530,198
  • File size: 281 KB

Meet the Author


Juan Gabriel Vásquez ’s books include The Sound of Things Falling, which won the Alfaguara Novel Prize in Spain and an English PEN award, and The Secret History of Costaguana, which won the Qwerty Prize in Barcelona. His books have been published in seventeen languages worldwide. He lives in Bogotá.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

I.
THE INADEQUATE LIFE

On the morning of April 7, 1991, when my father telephonedto invite me to his apartment in Chapinero for the firsttime, there was such a downpour in Bogotá that the streamsof the Eastern Hills burst their banks, and the water camepouring down, dragging branches and mud, blocking the sewers,fl ooding the narrowest streets, lifting small cars with theforce of the current, and even killing an unwary taxi driverwho somehow ended up trapped under the chassis of his ownvehicle. The phone call itself was at the very least surprising,but on that day seemed nothing less than ominous, not onlybecause my father had stopped receiving visitors a long timebefore, but also because the image of the water- besieged city, themotionless traffic jams and broken stoplights and maroonedambulances and unattended emergencies, would have sufficedunder normal circumstances to convince anyone that goingout to visit someone was imprudent, and asking someoneto come to visit almost rash. The scenes of Bogotá in chaosattested to the urgency of his call and made me suspect thatthe invitation was not a matter of courtesy, suggesting a provisionalconclusion: we were going to talk about books. Notjust any old book, of course; we’d talk about the only one I’d then published, a piece of reportage with a TV- documentarytitle— A Life in Exile, it was called— that told or tried to tellthe life story of Sara Guterman, daughter of a Jewish familyand lifelong friend of ours, beginning with her arrival inColombia in the 1930s. When it appeared in 1988, the bookhad enjoyed a certain notoriety, not because of its subjector its debatable quality, but because my father, a professor ofrhetoric who never deigned to sully his hand with any form ofjournalism, a reader of classics who disapproved of the very actof commenting on literature in print, had published a savagereview of it in the Sunday magazine of El Espectador. It’s perhapsunderstandable that later, when my father sold the familyhome at a loss and took a lease on a refuge for the inveteratebachelor he pretended to be, I wasn’t surprised to hear thenews from someone else, even if it was from Sara Guterman,my least distant someone else.

So the most natural thing in the world, the afternoon Iwent to see him, was to think it was the book he wanted todiscuss with me: that he was going to make amends, threeyears late, for that betrayal, small and domestic though it mayhave been, but no less painful for that. What happened wasvery different. From his domineering, ocher- colored armchair,while he changed channels with the solitary digit of his mutilatedhand, this aged and frightened man, smelling of dirtysheets, whose breathing whistled like a paper kite, told me,in the same tone he’d used all through his life to recountan anecdote about Demosthenes or Gaitán, that he’d spentthe last three weeks making regular visits to a doctor at theSan Pedro Claver Clinic, and that an examination of his sixty- seven- year- old body had revealed, in chronological order,a mild case of diabetes, a blocked coronary artery— the anteriordescending— and the need for immediate surgery. Nowhe knew how close he’d been to no longer existing, and hewanted me to know, too. “I’m all you’ve got,” he said. “I’m allyou’ve got left. Your mother’s been buried for fifteen years. Icould have not called you, but I did. You know why? Becauseafter me you’re on your own. Because if you were a trapezeartist, I’d be your only safety net.” Well then, now that sufficient time has passed since my father’s death and I’ve finallydecided to organize my head and desk, my documents andnotes, to get this all down in writing, it seems obvious that Ishould begin this way: remembering the day he called me, inthe middle of the most intense winter of my adult life, not tomend the rift between us, but in order to feel less alone whenthey opened his chest with an electric saw and sewed a veinextracted from his right leg into his ailing heart.

It had begun with a routine check- up. The doctor, a man witha soprano’s voice and a jockey’s body, had told my father that amild form of diabetes was not entirely unusual or even terriblyworrying at his age: it was merely a predictable imbalance andwasn’t going to require insulin injections or drugs of any kind,but he would need to exercise regularly and observe a strictdiet. Then, after a few days of sensible jogging, the pain began,a delicate pressure on his stomach, rather resembling a threatof indigestion or something strange my father might haveswallowed. The doctor ordered new tests, still general ones but more exhaustive, and among them was a test of strength; myfather, wearing underpants as long and baggy as chaps, firstwalked then jogged on the treadmill, and then returned tothe tiny changing room (in which, he told me, he’d felt likestretching his arms, and, realizing the place was so small hecould touch the facing walls with his elbows, suffered a briefattack of claustrophobia), and when he’d just put on his flanneltrousers and begun to button up the cuffs of his shirt,already thinking about leaving and waiting for a secretary tocall him to pick up the results of his electrocardiogram, thedoctor knocked on the door. He was very sorry, he said, buthe hadn’t liked what he’d seen in the initial results: they weregoing to have to do a cardiac catheterization immediately toconfirm the risks. And they did, of course, and the risks (ofcourse) were confirmed: there was an obstructed artery.

“ Ninety- nine percent,” said my father. “I would have had aheart attack the day after tomorrow.”

“Why didn’t they admit you there and then?”

“Because the fellow thought I looked really nervous, I suppose.

He thought it’d be better if I went home. He did giveme a very specific set of instructions, though. Told me not tomove all weekend. Avoid any kind of excitement. No sex atall, especially. That’s what he said to me, believe it or not.”

“And what did you say to him?”

“That he didn’t need to worry about that. I wasn’t about totell him my life story.”

As he left the office and hailed a taxi amid the confusionof Twenty- sixth Street, my father had barely begun to confrontthe idea that he was ill. He was going to be admitted to the hospital without a single symptom that would betraythe urgency of his condition, with no discomfort beyond thefrivolous pain in the pit of his stomach, and all because of anincriminating catheter. The doctor’s arrogant spiel kept runningthrough his head: “If you’d waited three more days beforecoming to see me, we’d probably be burying you in a week.” Itwas a Friday; the operation was scheduled for the followingThursday at six in the morning. “I spent the night thinking Iwas going to die,” he told me, “and then I phoned you. Thatsurprised me, of course, but now I’m even more surprised you’vecome.” It’s possible he was exaggerating: my father knew noone was apt to consider his death as seriously as his own son,and we devoted that Sunday afternoon to such considerations.

I made a couple of salads, made sure there was juice and waterin the fridge, and began to look over his latest income- taxreturn with him. He had more money than he needed, whichisn’t to say he had a lot, just that he didn’t need much. His onlyincome came from his pension from the Supreme Court, andhis capital— that is, the money he’d received when he’d sold offthe house where I’d grown up and my mother had died— hadbeen invested in savings bonds, and the interest from themwas enough to cover his rent and living expenses for the mostascetic lifestyle I’d ever seen: a lifestyle in which, as far as Icould tell, no restaurants, concerts, or any other means, moreor less onerous, of entertainment entered into the picture. I’mnot saying that if my father had spent the occasional nightwith a hired lover I would have found out about it; but whenone of his colleagues tried to get him out of the house, to takehim out for a meal with some woman, my father refused once and then left the phone off the hook for the rest of the day.

“I’ve already met the people I had to meet in this life,” he toldme. “I don’t need anyone new.” One of those times, the personwho invited him was a trademark and patents lawyer youngenough to be his daughter, one of those large- breasted girlswho don’t read and seem to go through an inevitable phaseof curiosity about sex with older men. “And you turned herdown?” I asked. “Of course I turned her down. I told her Ihad a political meeting. ‘What party?’ she asked. ‘The OnanistParty,’ I told her. And off she went quietly home and neverbothered me again. I don’t know if she found a dictionary intime, but she seems to have decided to leave me alone becauseshe hasn’t invited me to anything since. Or who knows, maybethere’s a lawsuit against me, no? I can almost see the headlines:PERVERTED PROFESSOR ASSAULTS YOUNG WOMAN WITHBIBLICAL POLYSYLLABLES.”

I stayed with him until six or seven and then went home,thinking during the whole trip about what had just happened,about the strange twist of a son’s seeing his father’s home forthe first time. Was it just the two rooms— the living roomand bedroom— or was there a study somewhere? I couldn’tsee more than a cheap white bookcase leaning carelesslyagainst the wall that ran parallel to Forty- ninth Street, besidea barred window that hardly let in any light. Where were hisbooks? Where were the plaques and silver trays with whichothers had insisted on distinguishing his career over the years? Where did he work, where did he read, where did he listen tothat record— The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, a title I wasn’tfamiliar with— the sleeve of which was lying on the kitchen table? The apartment seemed stuck in the 1970s: the orangeand brown carpet; the white fiberglass chair I sank into asmy father recalled and described for me the map of his catheterization(its narrow highways, its back roads); the closed,windowless bathroom, lit only by a couple of transparent plasticrectangles on the ceiling (one of which was broken, andthrough the hole I could see two neon tubes in their deaththroes). There was soapy foam in the green washbasin, theshower was dark and didn’t smell too good, and from its aluminumframe hung two pairs of recently washed underpants.Had he washed them himself? Didn’t anyone come to helphim? I opened drawers and doors held shut with magnets andfound some aspirin, a box of Alka- Seltzer, and a rusty shavingbrush that no one had used for a long time. There were dropsof urine on the toilet bowl and on the fl oor: yellow, smellydrops, telltale signs of a worn- out prostate. And there, on topof the tank, under a box of Kleenex, was a copy of my book.

I wondered, of course, if this might not be his way of suggestingthat his opinion had not changed over the years. “Journalismaids intestinal transit,” I imagined him telling me. “Didn’tthey teach you that at the university?”

When I got home I made a few calls, although it was toolate to cancel the operation or to pay any attention to secondopinions, especially those formulated over the phoneand without the benefit of documents, test results, and X- rays.In any case, talking to Jorge Mor, a cardiologist at the ShaioClinic who’d been a friend of mine since school, didn’t domuch to calm me down. When I called him, Jorge confirmedwhat the doctor at San Pedro Claver had said: he confirmed the diagnosis as well as the necessity of operating urgently,and also the luck of having discovered the matter by chance,before my father’s asphyxiated heart did what it was thinkingof doing and suddenly stopped without warning. “Rest easy,brother,” Jorge told me. “It’s the simplest version of a difficultoperation. Worrying from now till Thursday won’t do anyoneany good.” “But what could go wrong?” I insisted. “Everythingcan go wrong, Gabriel, everything can go wrong in any operationin the world. But this is one that’s got to be done, and itis relatively simple. Do you want me to come over and explainit to you?” “Of course not,” I said. “Don’t be ridiculous.” Butmaybe if I’d accepted his offer I would have kept talking toJorge until it was time to go to bed. We would have talkedabout the operation; I would have gone to sleep late, after oneor two soporific drinks. Instead, I ended up going to bed atten, and just before three in the morning I realized I was stillawake and more frightened than I’d thought.

I got out of bed, felt in the pockets of my jeans for theshape of my wallet, and dumped its contents into the pool oflamplight. A few months before I turned eighteen, my fatherhad presented me with a rectangular card, dark blue on oneside and white on the other, which gave him the right to beburied with my mother in the Jardines de Paz— and there wasthe cemetery’s logo, letters like lilies— and asked me to keepit in a safe place. At that moment, like any other teenager, Icouldn’t think of anywhere better to put it than in my wallet;and there it had stayed all that time, between my ID cardand my military card, with its funereal aspect and the nametyped on an adhesive strip now wearing away. “One never knows,” my father had said when he gave it to me. “We couldget blown up any day and I want you to know what to do withme.” The time of bombs and attacks, a whole decade of livingevery day with the knowledge that arriving home each nightwas a matter of luck, was still in the distance; if he had infact been blown up, the possession of that card wouldn’t havemade things any clearer to me as to how to deal with the dead.Now it struck me that the card, yellowed and worn, lookedlike the mock- ups that come in new wallets, and no strangerwould have seen it for what it actually was: a laminated tomb.And so, considering the possibility that the moment to use ithad arrived, not due to any bombs or attacks but through thepredictable misdeeds of an old heart, I fell asleep.

They admitted him at five o’clock the next afternoon.Throughout those first hours, already in his green dressinggown, my father answered the anesthesiologist’s questionsand signed the white Social Security forms and the tricolorlife insurance ones (a faded national fl ag), and throughoutTuesday and Wednesday he spoke and kept speaking,demanding certainties, asking for information and in histurn informing, sitting on the high, regal mattress of the aluminumbed but nevertheless reduced to the vulnerable positionof one who knows less than the person with whom he’sspeaking. I stayed with him those three nights. I assured him,time and time again, that everything was going to be fine. Isaw the bruise on his thigh in the shape of the province ofLa Guajira, and assured him that everything was going tobe fine. And on Thursday morning, after they shaved hischest and both legs, three men and a woman took him to the operating room on the second fl oor, lying down and silent forthe first time and ostentatiously naked beneath the disposablegown. I accompanied him until a nurse, the same one who’dlooked blatantly and more than once at the patient’s comatosegenitals, asked me to get out of the way and gave me a littleammonia- smelling pat, saying the same thing I’d said to him:“Don’t worry, sir. Everything’s going to be fine.” Except sheadded, “God willing.”

Almost anyone would recognize my father’s name, and notonly because it’s the same as the one on the front of this book(yes, my father was a perfect example of that predictable species:those who are so confident of their life’s achievementsthat they have no fear of baptizing their children with theirown names), but also because Gabriel Santoro was the manwho taught, for more than twenty years, the famous Seminaron Judicial Oratory at the Supreme Court, and the man who,in 1988, delivered the commemoration address on the fourhundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Bogotá,that legendary text that came to be compared with the finestexamples of Colombian rhetoric, from Bolívar to Gaitán.gabriel santoro, heir to the liberal caudillo, was theheadline in an official publication that few know and no onereads, but which gave my father one of the great satisfactionsof his life in recent years. Quite right, too, because he’d learnedeverything from Gaitán: he’d attended all his speeches; he’dplagiarized his methods. Before he was twenty, for example,he’d started wearing my grandmother’s corsets to create the same effect as the girdle that Gaitán wore when he had tospeak outdoors. “The girdle put pressure on his diaphragm,”my father explained in his classes, “and his voice would comeout louder, deeper, and stronger. You could be two hundredmeters from the podium when Gaitán was speaking with nomicrophones whatsoever, pure lung power, and you could hearhim perfectly.” The explanation came accompanied by thedramatic performance, because my father was an excellentmimic (but where Gaitán raised the index finger of his righthand, pointing to the sky, my father raised his shiny stump).“People of Colombia: For the moral restoration of the Republic!People of Colombia: For your victory! People of Colombia:For the defeat of the oligarchy!” Pause; ostensibly kindquestion from my father: “Who can tell me why this series ofphrases moves us, what makes it effective?” An incautious student:“We’re moved by the ideas of— ” My father: “Nothingto do with ideas. Ideas don’t matter, any brute can have ideas,and these, in particular, are not ideas but slogans. No, theseries moves and convinces us through the repetition of thesame phrase at the beginning of the clauses, something thatyou will all, from now on, do me the favor of calling anaphora.And the next one to mention ideas will be shot.”

I used to go to these classes just for the pleasure of seeinghim embody Gaitán or whomever (other more or less regularcharacters were Rojas Pinilla and Lleras Restrepo), and I gotused to watching him, seeing him squaring up like a retiredboxer, his prominent jaw and cheekbones, the imposing geometryof his back that filled out his suits, his eyebrows so longthey got in his eyes and sometimes seemed to sweep across his lids like theater curtains, and his hands, always and especiallyhis hands. The left was so wide and the fingers so long that hecould pick up a football with his fingertips; the right was nomore than a wrinkled stump on which remained only the mastof his erect thumb. My father was about twelve, and alone in hisgrandparents’ house in Tunja, when three men with machetesand rolled- up trousers came in through a kitchen window,smelling of cheap liquor and damp ponchos and shouting “Death to the Liberal Party,” and didn’t find my grandfather,who was standing for election to the provincial government ofBoyacá and would be ambushed a few months later in Sogamoso,but only his son, a child who was still in his pajamaseven though it was after nine in the morning. One of themchased him, saw him trip over a clump of earth and get tangledup in the overgrown pasture of a neighboring field; after oneblow of his machete, he left him for dead. My father had raiseda hand to protect himself, and the rusty blade sliced off his fourfingers. María Rosa, the cook, began to worry when he didn’tshow up for lunch, and finally found him a couple of hours afterthe machete attack, in time to stop him bleeding to death. Butthis last part my father didn’t remember; they told him later,just as they told him about his fevers and the incoherent thingshe said— seeming to confuse the machete- wielding men withthe pirates of Salgari books— amid the feverish hallucinations.

He had to learn how to write all over again, this timewith his left hand, but he never achieved the necessary dexterity,and I sometimes thought, without ever saying so, thathis disjointed and deformed penmanship, those small child’scapital letters that began brief squadrons of scribbles, was the only reason a man who’d spent a lifetime among other people’sbooks had never written a book of his own. His subject was theword, spoken and read, but never written by his hand. He feltclumsy using a pen and was unable to operate a keyboard: writingwas a reminder of his handicap, his defect, his shame. Andseeing him humiliate his most gifted students, seeing him fl ogthem with his vehement sarcasm, I used to think: You’re takingrevenge. This is your revenge.

But none of that seemed to have any consequences in thereal world, where my father’s success was as unstoppable as slander.The seminar became popular among experts in criminallaw and postgraduate students, lawyers employed by multinationalsand retired judges with time on their hands; and therecame a time when this old professor with his useless knowledgeand superfl uous techniques had to hang on the wall, betweenhis desk and bookshelves, a kind of kitsch, colonial shelf, uponwhich piled up, behind the little rail with its pudgy columns, thesilver trays and the diplomas on cardboard, on watermarkedpaper, on imitation parchment, and the particleboard plaqueswith eye- catching coats of arms in colored aluminum.

FOR GABRIEL SANTORO, IN RECOGNITION OF TWENTYYEARS OF PEDAGOGICAL LABOR . . . CERTIFIES THAT DOCTORGABRIEL SANTORO, BY VIRTUE OF HIS CIVIL MERITS . . .THE MAYORALTY OF GREATER BOGOTÁ, IN HOMAGE TODOCTOR GABRIEL SANTORO . . .

There, in that sort of sanctuary for sacred cows, the sacred cowwho was my father spent his days. Yes, that was his reputation: my father knew it when they called him from city hall to offerhim the speech at the Capitolio Nacional; that is, to ask himto deliver a few commonplaces in front of bored politicians.

This peaceable professor— they would have thought— tickedall the right boxes for the event. My father didn’t give themanything they expected.was in each one of those sentences— all of which, I’m sure,held no importance for my father, who wanted only to dust offhis rifl es and take his best shots in the presence of a select audience.None of them, however, could recognize the value of thatexemplary model of rhetoric: a valiant introduction, becausehe relinquished the chance to appeal to his audience’s sympathies(“I’m not here to celebrate anything”), a narrative basedon confrontation (“This city has been betrayed. Betrayed byall of you for almost half a millennium”), an elegant conclusionthat began with the most elegant figure of classical oratory(“There once was a time when it was possible to speak of thiscity”). And then that final paragraph, which would later serveas a mine of epigraphs for various official publications and wasrepeated in all the newspapers the way they repeat Simón Bolívar’sI shall go quietly down to my grave or Colonel, you must saveour nation.

Somewhere in Plato we read: “Landscapes and treeshave nothing to teach me, but the people of a city mostcertainly do.” Citizens, I propose we learn from ours, Ipropose we undertake the political and moral reconstructionof Bogotá. We shall achieve resurrectionthrough our industry, our perseverance, our will. On herfour hundred and fiftieth birthday, Bogotá is a young cityyet to be made. To forget this, citizens, is to endanger ourown survival. Do not forget, citizens, nor let us forget.

My father spoke about reconstruction and morals and perseverance,and he did so without blushing, because he focused less on what he said than on the device he used to say it. Laterhe would comment: “The last sentence is nonsense, but thealexandrine is pretty. It fits nicely there, don’t you think?”

The whole speech lasted sixteen minutes and twentyseconds— according to my stopwatch and not including the ferventapplause— a tiny slice of that August 6, 1988, when Bogotáturned four hundred and fifty, Colombia celebrated one hundredand sixty- nine years less a day of independence, my motherhad been dead for twelve years, six months, and twenty- onedays, and I, who was twenty- seven years, six months, and fourdays old, suddenly felt overwhelmingly convinced of my owninvulnerability, and everything seemed to indicate that therewhere my father and I were, each in charge of his own successfullife, nothing could ever happen to us, because the conspiracyof things (what we call luck) was on our side, and from then onwe could expect little more than an inventory of achievements,ranks and ranks of those grandiloquent capitals: the Pride ofour Friends, the Envy of our Enemies, Mission Accomplished.I don’t have to say it, but I’m going to say it: those predictionswere completely mistaken. I published a book, an innocentbook, and then nothing was ever the same again.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

From a masterful new literary voice—a haunting novel of history, family, and memory.

After Gabriel Santoro’s biography is published—a profile of Jewish German immigrant and lifelong family friend Sara Guterman, and her experiences starting anew in 1930s Colombia—he is shocked by his father’s (a respected Bogotá rhetorician) widely circulated, scathing review. But as Gabriel delves deeper into his father’s life—to help explain this dramatic, painful public gesture—he is soon entrenched in his father’s personal history, one filled with startling betrayals and secrets that hold the key to his father’s anger and alienation.

Determined to put the pieces together after a mysterious car accident causes his father’s death, Gabriel sets out to unravel his family’s past in the tumultuous shadow of World War II. But after his father’s mistress Angelina goes public with damning admonitions, it becomes clear to Gabriel that he must find out the truth about his father’s life before the past slips away completely.

ABOUT JUAN GABRIEL VÁSQUEZ

Juan Gabriel Vásquez is a critically acclaimed, award-winning Colombian writer, whose work has been translated into nine languages. Educated in Colombia and in Paris at the Sorbonne, he now teaches in Barcelona, where he lives with his wife and twin daughters.

ABOUT ANNE MCLEAN

Anne McLean has translated Latin American and Spanish novels, short stories, memoirs, and other writings by many acclaimed authors. Her work has been short-listed for the IMPAC prize, won the Premio Valle-Inclán, and has twice been awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Gabriel Santoro Jr. is a biographer. So in a certain sense, he is also a translator, interpreting Sara’s memories, his father’s motivations, and Enrique’s letters, among other observations he makes of the lives around him. Why does Gabriel think this is his calling? What drives his choice to write, edit, and reveal the hidden dramas of his family’s past? What challenges or freedoms arise with this burden of translation?
     
  2. After his book A Life in Exile is published and receives his father’s scathing review, Gabriel is stunned, but attempts to reconcile his thoughts and emotions by finding the source of his father’s anger. How does Gabriel go about doing this? What are his roadblocks? His unusual resources?
     
  3. Even though it was fought on a different continent, what impact does WWII have on the families in The Informers—to business, identity, innocence, and a sense of belonging? How would you respond to Sara who asks “who’s going to pay [Margarita] back those lost years? Who’s going to give her body back the years that it lost waiting for abstract things...” (160)? What is the most precious thing lost in war?
     
  4. What role do “the informers” play in the narrative? Who are they, and what does each introduce into the story?
     
  5. “I like other people’s lives; I like to make myself at home and examine them” (221). Do you think Gabriel ever oversteps his bounds as he is researching his father’s life? Is that an informer’s job? What, if anything, should he have kept secret?
     
  6. Sara reveals so much in her tapes, yet upholds her loyalty to Gabriel Sr.’s secrets, especially his shocking act. How does she explain to Gabriel why she did not share every detail with him? Why does she hold back? Do you think she did the right thing?
     
  7. How does Angelina’s role, and our opinion of her, change over the course of the novel? As both an informer and confidant—to Gabriel and his son—how does this transform her in our eyes? Why do you think she went to the media with Gabriel’s secrets? Was she justified?
     
  8. What was the breaking point for Gabriel’s father that drove him to leave Angelina and take the treacherous road to meet with Enrique Deresser? Do you think he purposefully caused the accident? Why or not?
     
  9. Do the characters in the novel really think it is possible to “revise” one’s life story through redressing past actions? Why or why not? And does anyone succeed?
     
  10. Do you think knowing why Gabriel Sr. renounced A Life in Exile is enough to justify his behavior toward his son? What would you have done in Gabriel, Sr.’s, situation?
     
  11. What are the differences in Gabriel’s motivation for writing his first book versus his second? Is one more justified than the other?
     
  12. Gabriel is accused of revealing too much publicly about his father’s affairs—similar to Angelina’s own tell-all interview. Do you think this is a fair, accurate assessment? Why or why not?
     
  13. What legacy does Gabriel Sr. leave behind? Do you think Gabriel Jr. is happier knowing the truth about his father? Why or why not?
     
  14. Before reading The Informers were you aware that in the years following WWII, Germans affiliated with the Third Reich were blacklisted in various countries across South America? What, if anything, did you learn about that period in history from reading this novel? Did it surprise you? Why or why not?
     
  15. In an essay about writing The Informers, the author, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, says, “I wanted to find out about the way the war was experienced in Colombia: about the existence of a Nazi party there, about the blacklists, about the way my generation has inherited the consequences of what happened in those years….‘Novels,’ said Balzac, ‘are the private history of nations.’ That idea carried me through the writing of The Informers.” Do you think Vásquez has lived up to this idea of Balzac’s? Why or why not?
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)