Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
Columbia, has we know had a period in its recent history when it was notoriously synonymous with drug lords and extrajudicial killings under the auspices of infamous drug king Pablo Escobar. This period of Columbian history forms a backdrop to Vásquez beautiful, yet sad, story of Antonio Yammara as he searches for the reason why has been shot alongside his now dead new friend, the older Ricardo Laverde, an ex-pilot whom he has met in a billiard hall in Bogatá. As he unravels the older man’s story, meets his daughter from his marriage to an American Peace Corp volunteer in the early sixties, when their innocence led her to Columbia to “make a difference” and him to pilot shipments of the marijuana he thought would one day be legalised, Antonio’s own family life, his wife and daughter, take on a similar parting of the ways that Ricardo had done. Like the mate and child of the now dead hippopotamus from Escobar’s private zoo, wives and daughters are cast alone to face the world. The final lines of this novel read “..the world is too risky a place to be wandering on our own, without anyone waiting for us at home, who worries about us when we don’t show up, and who can go out to look for us?”
Note: Anne McLean has twice won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize – in 2004 for Javier Cercas’s Soldiers of Salamis, and in 2009 for Evelio Rosero’s The Armies. She was also one of the translators who worked on Eduardo Halfon’s The Polish Boxer which I reviewed previously on this blog.
ashramblings verdict 4* the translation reads exceedingly well and the storyline hooks the reader from its strange opening story about the shooting of a hippopotamus that had escaped from Escobar’s old private zoo in 2009.