Avid book reader. Lover of fantasy, contemporary fiction, short stories and non-fiction. This blog is a work in progress - and it will likely always be that way.
Colombia 1980s-90s. There’s a zoo to which all the kids go to, called Hacienda Napoles, property of drug King Escobar. He also runs his smuggling operations from there, and plans assassinations from the very same headquarter. As the author notes in an interview with NPR :
"It's a center of gravity for those years in our memory, the place where the worse things were going on and at the same time the place that was visited by a whole generation of Colombian innocent children.”
The book opens with a hippo that escaped Escobar’s zoo, and has been terrorising fishermen and farmers ever since. But the hippo gets captured and shot. All of this becomes a remarkable metaphor for many things to come. Like armies of young Colombians trying to escape a poor life, wanting to make money in this easy thing called drug trafficking – which lead to an entirely new generation growing up with a parent in a foreign jail.
To be honest, I only came to appreciate this book a bit better when I stumbled on a NPR review , and more importantly the before mentioned author interview, just after finishing the book. I felt like there were many things I couldn’t place, and these pieces held the key for me. So I can only advise everyone to check out both links when you've finished the book. It might give you a new perspective on some of the things read.
It’s also a critique on the book though; it stumbles a bit when it has to stand on its own two feet.
My second problem with the book was the translation. Always a tricky point, because they have the power to make or break a book. Don’t get me wrong, I have all the respect in the world for translators and I appreciate how tough it is. Especially translating from a Roman to a Germanic language is the choice from hell: either you keep the phrasing as it is in the original, making the sentences nearly unreadable in the destination language, or you aim to make it very readable: shortening the sentences and eliminating half a dozen sub-phrases, but you completely change the spirit of the original phrasing which translators normally shouldn't do.
I had the Dutch version on loan from our local library, and the translator chose the first option, making many sentences completely unreadable in Dutch, sometimes even grammatically incorrect. I can’t fault Juan Gabriel Vasquez for that, but it’s also impossible to erase the link to my overall opinion of the book. Reading the comments around me, it seems that the English translation went smoother, so most of you might have less issues here.
Still glad I read it though, it’s been on my mind for two days now.