The Secret History of Costaguana
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A bold historical novel from "one of the most original new voices of Latin American literature" (Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature).
In the early twentieth century, a struggling Joseph Conrad wrote his great novel Nostromo, about a South American republic he named Costaguana. It was inspired by the geography and history of Colombia, where Conrad spent only a few days. But in Juan Gabriel Vásquez's novel The Secret History of Costaguana, we uncover the hidden source- and one of the great literary thefts.
On the day of Joseph Conrad's death in 1924, the Colombian-born José Altamirano begins to write and cannot stop. Many years before, he confessed to Conrad his life's every delicious detail-from his country's heroic revolutions to his darkest solitary moments. Conrad stole them all. Now Conrad is dead, but the slate is by no means clear- Nostromo will live on and Altamirano must write himself back into existence. As the destinies of real empires collide with the murky realities of imagined ones, Vásquez takes us from a flourishing twentieth-century London to the lawless fury of a blooming Panama and back.
Tragic and despairing, comic and insightful, The Secret History of Costaguana is a masterpiece of historical invention. It will secure Juan Gabriel Vásquez's place among the most original and exuberantly talented novelists working today.
out right under my nose, taking Cervoni and Korzeniowski, among other passengers, and, in the freight cars, the one thousand two hundred and ninety-three breech-loading, bolt-action Chassepot rifles, which had crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Saint-Antoine and which had, themselves, a good story to tell. Yes, Readers of the Jury, in my democratic tale things also have a voice, and will also be allowed to take the floor. (Oh, the tricks a poor narrator must resort to in order to tell what he
way, almost simultaneously, another couple displaced by the earthquake moved in, Gustave and Charlotte Madinier. Everyone was agreed that getting out of that horrible hotel full of dark memories would bring about notable benefits, tabula rasa and all that. In the evenings, after dinner, my father walked the fifty meters that separated us from the Madiniers’ little house, or they walked over to ours, and we sat on the veranda with brandy and cigars to watch the yellow moon dissolve in the waters
field became covered in pale naked corpses, with broken bellies and spilled entrails staining the green of the meadow. For fourteen days the smell of death penetrated the nostrils of men too young to recognize it or to know why their mucous membranes were stinging or why it wouldn’t go away even when they rubbed gunpowder into their mustaches. Wounded revolutionaries fled down the Torcoroma trail and collapsed like milestones along the escape route, so one could have kept track of their fate
starting to become sadly resigned to my tormented-widower’s reactions. I looked at her: she had turned into a living portrait of Charlotte (her small breasts, her tone of voice); she’d had enough presence of mind to cut her hair short like a boy, trying to reduce as much as possible the resemblance that tormented me; however, at that moment I felt a gap opening up between us (a Darien Jungle) or that an insuperable obstruction (a Sierra Nevada) arose between us. She was turning into someone else:
like an observation balloon. In the Darien Jungle, I swear, though I’ve not seen it, the land began to open (geology receiving orders from politics), and Central America began to float free toward the ocean; in Colón, I swear, with full knowledge of proceedings, it was like a new word had entered the citizens’ lexicon. . . . One walked among the ruckus and smells of Front Street and could hear it in all the accents of Spanish, from the Caribbean Spanish of Cartagena to the purest bogotáno, from