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The Secret History of Costaguana [Kindle Edition]

Juan Gabriel Vasquez
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

From the author of The Sound of Things Falling, a "brilliant new novel" (New York Times Book Review) and one of the most buzzed about books of the year!

"One of the most original new voices of Latin American literature." -- Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature


“Unlike anything written by his Latin American contemporaries” (The Financial Times) The Informers secured Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s place as one of the most original and exuberantly talented novelist working today. Now he returns with an ingenious new novel of historical invention.

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. Those intimate recollections became Nostromo, a novel that solidified Conrad’s fame and turned Altamirano’s reality into a work of fiction. 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 in a labyrinthine quest to reclaim the past—of both a country and a man.




Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for The Secret History of Costaguana

“Audacious…a potent mixture of history, fiction and literary gamesmanship.” — Los Angeles Times

“An exceptional new novel.” —The Wall Street Journal
 

Praise for Juan Gabriel Vásquez

“One of the most original new voices of Latin American literature."
— Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

“Remarkable . . . Immensely entertaining . . . The best work of literary fiction to come my way since 2005.”
—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“One hallmark of a gifted novelist is the ability to see the potential for compelling fiction in an incident, anecdote or scrap of history. . . . By that standard and several others, the career of Juan Gabriel Vásquez . . . is off to a notable start.”
—Larry Rohter, The New York Times

Review

Praise for The Secret History of Costaguana

“Audacious…a potent mixture of history, fiction and literary gamesmanship.” —Los Angeles Times

“An exceptional new novel.” —The Wall Street Journal


Praise for Juan Gabriel Vásquez

“One of the most original new voices of Latin American literature." — Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

“Remarkable . . . Immensely entertaining . . . The best work of literary fiction to come my way since 2005.” — Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“One hallmark of a gifted novelist is the ability to see the potential for compelling fiction in an incident, anecdote or scrap of history. . . . By that standard and several others, the career of Juan Gabriel Vásquez . . . is off to a notable start.” — Larry Rohter, The New York Times

Product Details

  • File Size: 400 KB
  • Print Length: 303 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594488037
  • Publisher: Riverhead; Reprint edition (June 9, 2011)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004XY5Y9Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,982 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By Ripple
Format:Hardcover
Richly told fictional account of Colombia and the building of the Panama Canal. Was this story the basis for Joseph Conrad's 1904 novel Nostromo set in the fictional Costaguana?

In 1904 Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad wrote his novel about a self-publicising Italian expatriate by the name of `'Nostromo'`, set in the fictitious South American republic of Costaguana. Columbian writer, Juan Gabriel Vásquez imagines that the fictitious José Altamirano has assisted Conrad in his research by telling him his own story, only to find that the British novelist has subsequently inexcusably omitted him from his book. Now, he is seeking to set the record straight by telling the reader, who he imagines in the role of a jury, as well as someone named Eloísa (who we later find out about) the same story to pass judgement on if this was fair.

Operating in this grey area between fiction and non-fiction, combining literature with history and addressing issues of influence and originality, Vásquez explores what Columbia means as a nation, with repeated violence and political upheaval, as well as illustrating the influence of the individual on history. And it's highly entertaining, not least as the narrator, José is a witty and charming story teller, albeit one that is perhaps a little full of his own importance.

Running through the centre José's story is his relationship with his father, Miguel, a journalist, who finds employment with the company charged with digging the Panama Canal. Panama at the time was part of Colombia.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Canal Fiasco August 6, 2013
Format:Hardcover
Before switching to this fine English translation by Anne McLean, I began this book in Spanish, and reviewed it under that edition some time ago. I am resubmitting the review now to accompany those of the two other Vásquez novels so far translated: the earlier THE INFORMERS and his later THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING -- a book that strikes a perfect balance between the almost obsessive concentration of the former, and the looser event-driven narrative of the present book.

McLean does a magnificent job of capturing the special voice of the first-person narrator, a Colombian emigré called José Altamirano. Witty, risqué, speaking directly to his readers, and making hay with narrative and historical conventions, he is an engaging travel companion and tour guide to a turbulent century of Colombian history. You could almost read the book (in either language) for that voice alone; almost, but not quite.

Altamirano, born in Colombia in 1855, arrives in London as an exile from Panama, following the province's secession from Colombia in the revolution of 1903. He is introduced to Joseph Conrad, then looking for background material for his novel NOSTROMO. Writing now in 1924, the year of Conrad's death, Altamirano believes that the novelist has stolen his life story and that of his country to make a fiction of his own, utterly obliterating him in the process. It is an intriguing premise, but the framework stands up less well than the separate stories hung upon it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls short of Joseph Conrad and "Nostromo" August 19, 2011
Format:Hardcover
This is an ambitious novel, an attempt by the relatively young Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez to write serious literature. Give credit to him for that. But he tries to do too much; the novel is too diffuse and glib; and the Joseph Conrad angle is little more than an attention-getting gimmick. Despite some clever and entertaining passages, and a few brilliant ones, as a whole the novel fails.

The first-person narrator is José Altamirano. He was born in Colombia in 1855, the bastard son of a journalist father who coupled just one time with the Colombian wife of an American adventurer/engineer. Altamirano lived through the vicissitudes of Colombian politics and history until 1903, when the machinations of the United States - greased by several shiploads of marines and a chest of silver - brought about the secession of the State of Panama from the Republic of Colombia. That rupture, in turn, allowed the United States to pick up where the French had left off in building a trans-isthmus canal across Panama rather than Nicaragua. By coincidence Altamirano might have been able to thwart the Machiavellian maneuver by speaking up at a crucial moment, but he kept his silence. Plagued with guilt, he ended up abandoning his daughter in Panama and retreating to London for the remainder of his life. There, he was visited by Joseph Conrad, who was stymied in writing a novel set in an imaginary South American country called Costaguana. Altamirano spent a long evening with Conrad, relating his own story of Colombia and how it had been molded by the Angel of History, the Political Gorgon, the Journalism of Refraction, and human greed and ignorance.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Let there be a canal
An engineering feat (the Panama Canal), its related financial and PR scandals, and a political conflict ( Colombia's civil wars and the US-supported separation of the isthmus... Read more
Published 5 months ago by H. Schneider
3.0 out of 5 stars I gained some insights into the Panamanian culture and mind ...
I gained some insights into the Panamanian culture and mind set. The narrator (i.e. the author) kept intruding in the story which made it difficult not to get distracted.
Published 5 months ago by Fran Luck
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual slant on early Colombia by a fine stylist & story-teller.
Beautifully written, imaginative & evocative tale of early Colombian times and events; good history, too.
I greatly enjoyed and recommend this book.
Published 6 months ago by James Hammond
2.0 out of 5 stars not for me
Did not make it past page 100. The story is intriguing but I found the style of writing a bit annoying even when the author continues to make excuses for the chronology... Read more
Published 10 months ago by pepper104
4.0 out of 5 stars something different to read
I bought this book to broaden my reading subjects. I think it also will broaden my knowledge of history in other countries. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Susan A. Verbalis
3.0 out of 5 stars Arduous reading...
This book attracted my attention and curiosity because colonial Colombia has always fascinated me. I admire the author's ability to make the reader smell the gunpowder of... Read more
Published 16 months ago by JA Muzzall
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Enjoyable
I found this to be a very well written, intriguing novel. I thought the "convoluted" narrative reflected the state of mind of the narrator, and I felt the technique was well done... Read more
Published on December 2, 2011 by J. Labonte
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of time
This might very well be the least enjoyable book I have ever read. The author's parallel to Conrad was so absurd it made the entire premise of the book feel contrived. Read more
Published on August 5, 2011 by LSBlanke
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the casual reader, but an interesting perspective
In this rather convoluted tale, the narrator, Jose Altamarano, the illegitimate son of a married cynic and an idealistic Renaissance man, poor, anonymous, exiled and Colombian,... Read more
Published on July 7, 2011 by Julie A. Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting novel about the early history of Colombia
The famous writer Joseph Conrad struggles to provide for his young family in early 20th century London, and is plagued with self-doubt about his ability to become a successful... Read more
Published on March 22, 2011 by Darryl R. Morris
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More About the Author

Author Juan Gabriel Vasquez is a critically acclaimed Colombian writer, translator, and award-winning author. Educated in Barcelona and in Paris at the Sorbonne, he now teaches in Barcelona, where he lives with his wife and twin daughters.

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