I chose this New Title Tuesday pick, Reputations, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez because it was recommended by NPR book critic, Juan Vidal in his column Get A Global Perspective With 5 Of The Year’s Best Books In Translation.
Once I started reading, I recognized through the author’s immaculate use of language that Reputations is not simply a story but a literary study of memory, truth, vanity, and morality of both the individual and the collective.
Publisher Summary: Javier Mallarino is a living legend. He is his country’s most influential political cartoonist, the consciousness of a nation. A man capable of repealing laws, overturning judges’ decisions, destroying politicians’ careers with his art. His weapons are pen and ink. Those in power fear him and pay him homage.
At sixty-five, after four decades of a brilliant career, he’s at the height of his powers. But this all changes when he’s paid an unexpected visit from a young woman who upends his sense of personal history and forces him to re-evaluate his life and work, questioning his position in the world.
In Reputations, Juan Gabriel Vásquez examines the weight of the past, how a public persona intersects with private histories, and the burdens and surprises of memory. In this intimate novel that recalls authors like Coetzee and Ian McEwan, Vásquez plumbs universal experiences to create a masterful story, one that reverberates long after you turn the final page.
Even though the story is set in Bogata, Reputations addresses universal realities. He examines the power of the press and the consequences and responsibilities that accompany fame. He also admits the futility of expecting significant societal change. In the acceptance speech Mallarino states: “In these forty years, it occurs to me now, there are a least two things that haven’t changed: first, what worries us; second, what makes us laugh. That’s still the same…and I’m very much afraid that it’ll still be the same forty years from now.”
Later in the book, he considers the reliability of memory: “Mallarino imagined the past as a watery creature with imprecise contours, a sort of deceitful, dishonest amoeba that can’t be investigated because, looking for it again under the microscope, we find that it’s not there, and we suspect that it’s gone, but we soon realize it has changed shape and is now impossible to recognize.”
Yiyun Li, New York Times reviewer, wrote: “Reputations can be read and enjoyed on many levels: for its reflections on art, memory and fate; for its account of recent Colombian history at a slant, which is Vásquez’s trademark approach; for its Jungian exploration of lives intersecting.”
Reputations is not without hope. Vasquez suggests we can remember our future and create a “moral landscape” for ourselves.
Happy Reading, Susan. C.
Also by Juan Gabriel Vasquez:
The Sound of Things Falling In the city of Bogotá, Antonio Yammara reads an article about a hippo that had escaped from a derelict zoo once owned by legendary Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The article transports Antonio back to when the war between Escobar’s Medellín cartel and government forces played out violently in Colombia’s streets and in the skies above. Back then, Antonio witnessed a friend’s murder, an event that haunts him still. As he investigates, he discovers the many ways in which his own life and his friend’s family have been shaped by his country’s recent violent past. His journey leads him all the way back to the 1960s and a world on the brink of change: a time before narco-trafficking trapped a whole generation in a living nightmare.
Lovers on All Saints Day is an emotional book that haunts, moves, and seduces. Juan Gabriel Vasquez, the brilliant novelist, now brings his keen eye and rich prose to the themes of love and memory in these seven powerful stories
The Informers: For anyone who has read the entire works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and is in search of a new Colombian novelist, then Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Informers is a thrilling new discovery’ Colm Toibin, Guardian ‘A fine and frightening study of how the past preys upon the present’ John Banville ‘Like Sebald, Vasquez is interested in survivors and in the distortions of history and memory One of this year’s outstanding books.