Tag: Rafael Uribe Uribe

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Posted September 27, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel VásquezTitle: The Shape of the Ruins (Goodreads)
Author: Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Translator: Anne McLean
Published: MacLehose Press, 2015
Pages: 505
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019

Juan Gabriel Vásquez is quickly becoming a new favourite of mine. Having read The Sound of Things Falling and now The Shape of the Ruins, I cannot help but appreciate his style. I compared him to Roberto Bolaño in my previous review, mainly because they both like to insert themselves into the narrative. Bolaño has his alter ego Arturo Belano show up in a few of his novels. Whereas Juan Gabriel Vásquez just used the same name for his characters. I am positive this are not just a character that shares the same name. His approach to literature is to explore Columbian history in a fictionalised account, but I think that these characters are just a device to tell the reader how the past has affected him.

The Sound of Things Falling looks on the impact the Pablo Escoba had on Colombia. While The Shape of the Ruins is focused on the murders of both Rafael Uribe Uribe in 1914 and Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948. Rafael Uribe Uribe’s political ideas lead to the establishment of Guild socialism and trade unions in Colombia, while Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was leader of a populist movement in Colombia. Their political ideology were very different but Vásquez uses the investigations into their deaths as a way to look at Colombia. Particularly how it lead to a ten year civil war known as La Violencia.

Within the novel these two political figures are often referenced in relation to two different facts. Rafael Uribe Uribe was the inspiration for the character General Buendia in Gabriel García Márquez’s in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Jorge Eliécer Gaitán is referred two as the Colombian J.F.K. Which to my mind made me automatically look at this novel as a way to explore the cultural significance of these two murders as well as Colombia on the world stage. Particularly the cycle of violence that is constantly putting the country in the news.

I find it difficult to review a novel like The Shape of the Ruins, not because there is not much to say, quite the opposite. In fact, it is because I do not know the history of Colombia well enough to voice any interesting opinions. Books like this are often referred to as autofiction, which is a literary term that refers to a fictionalised autobiography. Most works of fiction have elements of truth within the characters but these books are using the experience and history to build a story around it. I read translations because I want to understand the world a little better, and I appreciate the chance to learn their history in the process. This is why I love authors like Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

To be fair, I have been obsessed with Latin American history for a few months and I have so much to read and learn. I turn to Juan Gabriel Vásquez as a new default recommendation. He will sit next to Roberto Bolaño as some of my favourite authors from South America. There are plenty more authors to explore on this continent but I have to recommend Ariana Harwicz, Mariana Enríquez, Pola Oloixarac and Samanta Schweblin as well. These four have all been recently translated and make up some of the exciting emerging female authors coming out of the continent, although these four are all from Argentina.

Having read Juan Gabriel Vásquez in the past, I would recommend starting with The Sound of Things Falling. There is something about exploring the effects the drug cartels had on the country that appealed to me. The Shape of the Ruins is also a great novel and if you care more about the political landscape then jump straight to this novel. I have a few more novels to read from Juan Gabriel Vásquez, which I probably will not read this year, but they will be coming up soon. Please recommend me a Vásquez to try next, or just recommend me an author that has a similar style.