Author: Laura Restrepo (translated by Natasha Wimmer)
Publisher: My copy was printed by Vintage, Random House
Publication Date: 11th March 2008 (first published in 2004, Bogota Colombia)
Paperback: 336 pages
Why did I choose to read this book? I visited the Beyond El Dorado: Power & Gold in Ancient Colombia,’ exhibition at the British Museum (open until 23rd March 2014) and found this book in the gift shop – and with my 10% off museum discount I decided to treat myself to an early Christmas present.
Where to read? Obviously it would be wonderful to read a book in it’s original setting, so if you are planning a trip to Colombia then I would take this story with you. However, if you’ve used up all your holiday allowance, like myself, then I would recommend picking somewhere peaceful as this is a book you need to concentrate on – I read it at home (inspirational I know, sorry.)
Refreshments: They eat empanadas, I love empanadas ( I learnt how to make them whilst in Ecuador – not bragging or anything) so read this and eat empanadas. Wash them down with, according to my sources tequila, but instead I chose a bottle of ice cold Aguila Cerveza
Aguilar returns home from a business trip to find a number of messages on his answer machine telling him to pick up his wife, Augustina, from a hotel room. Unsettled by this turn of events he rushes to her only to find she has gone mad. Desperate to rescue her from her own mind Aguilar has to unearth secrets from her dark past. Multiple narratives and histories are intertwined, from her grandparents madness, Midas a drug-trafficker, her Aunt Sofia and that of Agustina’s troubled childhood not forgetting the notorious Pablo Escobar. Weaving between the lines lies the secret to curing Augustina’s insanity but those are buried deep inside Colombia’s corrupt history.
The first thing that hit me was that stylistically, I had never read a book like this one. In fact this type of fractured narrative boasting no chapters, rather just page breaks, is something that I naturally avoid. However, the topic and aim of this story lent itself beautifully to this style, bringing you into the pages of both the characters and the history of Colombia. That’s not to say it is an easy book to read, far from it, you need to concentrate otherwise you lose who track of who is speaking. Whether it’s her husband, Aunt Sofi or Augustina’s former lover “Midas” McAlister, a narcodollar launderer whose front is an aerobics club. However, stick with it and you’ll enjoy a unique reading experience.
The character I enjoyed reading about the most and who spanned many of the time frames was that of Augustina’s, Aunt Sofi. Living on the sidelines yet simultaneously stuck right in the heart of the family she is the one who delivers the most illuminating of the secrets at the basis of Augustina’s madness.
The second is that of ‘Midas’, who presents us with the corrupt side of Colombia during the 1980s with Reagan in the White House and King of Coca, Pablo Escobar tightening his reign of power over the country. He explains how Augustina’s family grew rich thanks to himself and other money launderers, and gives us the unsavoury detail that her family ignores that he gets her pregnant and leaves her to deal with the consequences. His story culminates in the abandonment of Augustina thanks to a money laundering scam setup by Pablo Escabar himself that leaves Mida fleeing from gangsters. Other aspects of Colombia come out in the narrative such as, ‘like all her kind, has the unpleasant habit of… rejecting products made in this country… being prepared to pay anything for stuff from abroad.’ These tidbits from Colombian society enrich the narrative and overall message of Restrepo’s story
Finally, I knew little of the notorious Escabar but this story and especially this comment, ‘I was Escobar’s waiter: I served up my friends to him on a platter and added myself as desert’ piqued my interest further. I will definitely dig out further literature both from Colombian writer and commentators – or maybe go on this journey!
Overall this book was difficult to get into but I am extremely glad I stuck with it because it turned out to be a beautifully woven and intricate story of a country’s dark and throughly interesting past. A story that makes you want to read more about it’s subject is always a good thing in my book.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Ps. This is on my reading list, written by his brother it should prove rather an enlightening read.