So, yes, I broke my rule about no longer reading novels with male academics for protagonists, and was promptly punished for it with the character of Antonio Yammara, a boring and stereotypical womaniser who sleeps around with as many drunk female students as he can get a hand on, until he gets one pregnant and has to marry her. I wish I could avoid ever reading a novel with such a plotline again, but it seems boring and unimaginative male academic writers think that every novel they write is some kind of confessional, and they have to write about their own exploits, even if it is totally irrelevant to the actual story they’re trying to tell, as it is here.
Which is a good thing, because (although I almost didn’t get to see it, since I almost ragequit at the end of chapter 1) the actual story being told here is pretty good. Mostly, this novel tells the story of Colombia, and Bogotá especially, a country and a city just beginning to recover from the drug wars of the 80s. It’s evocative and poignant. The middle section of the book is, blissfully, not from Antonio’s perspective at all but tells the story of the Laverdes, one of many families deeply affected by the drugs trade. Then it returns to Antonio being an asshat, of course.
As I got to the end of the book, I started to feel like Vásquez knew what he was doing with the character of Antonio, that if he was an authorial self-insert at least he wasn’t an idealised one. Antonio is incredibly selfish, if not particularly self-reflective, which is illustrated by the way he abandons Aura without a word on the trail of the story of Ricardo Laverde. And then, naturally, he has to have sex with Laverde’s daughter, Maya, because how can a heterosexual man connect with a woman except through sex? I don’t particularly care for the way he justifies himself – Maya understands me, for she was here in Bogotá in the 80s too, unlike Aura who spent those years in México and Santiago de Chile! How could she ever understand what I’ve been through! – as if his formative years were any more than superficially similar to Maya’s. I guess I can’t fault Antonio for being unrealistic, he’s just an archetype I thoroughly despise reading about.
In short, if this had just been a book about Colombia, the drug wars and the Laverdes, it’d be getting four stars at least. On the other hand, if the whole book had been like chapter 1, it would be getting one star, and less if Goodreads allowed half-stars. It’s getting three because the depiction of Colombia and Bogotá, of Colombians and bogotanos, was really absorbing. Too bad about the protagonist!