The Shape of the new arrival Ruins: online A Novel online sale

The Shape of the new arrival Ruins: online A Novel online sale

The Shape of the new arrival Ruins: online A Novel online sale

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SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE

A sweeping tale of conspiracy theories, assassinations, and twisted obsessions -- the much anticipated masterpiece from Juan Gabriel Vásquez.


The Shape of the Ruins is a masterly story of conspiracy, political obsession, and literary investigation. When a man is arrested at a museum for attempting to steal the bullet-ridden suit of a murdered Colombian politician, few notice. But soon this thwarted theft takes on greater meaning as it becomes a thread in a widening web of popular fixations with conspiracy theories, assassinations, and historical secrets; and it haunts those who feel that only they know the real truth behind these killings.

This novel explores the darkest moments of a country''s past and brings to life the ways in which past violence shapes our present lives. A compulsive read, beautiful and profound, eerily relevant to our times and deeply personal, The Shape of the Ruins is a tour-de-force story by a master at uncovering the incisive wounds of our memories.

Review

Finalist for The Man Booker International Prize 2019
 
“This is the big, sweeping book of Colombia that Vásquez has been building up to—a novel that obsessively re-examines the fanaticism and deceptions at the heart of Colombia’s past and present.” — Vanity Fair
 
"Teeming with crackpots and idealists, doomed leaders and those who would avenge their deaths, this is a novel with a surplus of interesting characters. Its plot, meanwhile, is constantly churning. Readers who think they can foresee what’s coming next will find that they’re wrong." — San Francisco Chronicle
 
"[A] sweeping and magisterial novel.” — Washington Post
 
"Juan Gabriel Vásquez is the most famous novelist to come out of Colombia since Gabriel García Márquez… Deftly weaving fact into fiction, the novel asks if official history can ever add up to more than victors’ propaganda that buries other versions of the past." — The Economist
 
“This compelling read is more than a standard mystery; it interrogates the way moments of violence in Colombia’s past have retained their power long after they are over.”— Time Magazine
 
The Shape of the Ruins is far more than a tutorial; it’s a gripping Deep State novel that richly illuminates how the powerful brutalize the powerless. Its implications should serve as a cautionary tale for other nations under authoritarian threats. Vásquez has written the epic of his people.” — Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
“[P]acked with history, alternate history, and a keen, mischievous sense of historical humor.” —Michael Schaub, NPR Books
 
"Juan Gabriel Vásquez''s The Shape of the Ruins is a highly sophisticated, fast-moving political thriller set in Colombia and an excellent read." —Alan Furst
 
"One of the great novels of recent years." —Mario Vargas Llosa
 
"Juan Gabriel Vásquez''s latest and most ambitious novel.... A dazzlingly choreographed network of echoes and mirrorings." — Times Literary Supplement
 
"[A] clever, labyrinthine, thoroughly enjoyable historical novel." — The Guardian
 
"A reinventor of Latin American literature in the 21st century." —Jonathan Franzen
 
"A return to form and a major achievement for la novela negra…Gabriel Vásquez has an incredible grasp on tone and manages to keep a certain aloofness to the novel’s voice, while simultaneously plunging us into distorted, traumatized minds. This is the novel I’ll be foisting on people all fall." – Crime Reads
 
"With utmost skill, Vásquez has us accompany him in his detective work, proposing a reflection on ghosts from the past and the inheritance of blame, doubt and fear." — El País
 
"Vásquez’s captivating, disquieting account of a writer’s journey through the shadowy terrain of his country’s past dynamically illustrates how violence damages survivors, lies erode society, and fiction can convey truths history omits." – Publishers Weekly, starred review
 
"A Paul Auster-style intellectual thriller… This book, by design, is immersive in the way quicksand is, pulling the reader in directions often best resisted… A fine work of art about the blurry line between truth and artifice."— Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s previous books include the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner and national bestseller  The Sound of Things Falling, as well as the award-winning  Reputations, The InformersThe Secret History of Costaguana, and the story collection  Lovers on All Saints'' Day. Vásquez’s novels have been published in twenty-eight languages worldwide. After sixteen years in France, Belgium, and Spain, he now lives in Bogotá.

Anne McLean translates Latin American and Spanish novels, short stories, memoirs, and other writings. She has twice won both the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Premio Valle Inclán, and received the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award with Juan Gabriel Vásquez for his novel  The Sound of Things Falling. She lives in Toronto.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I

 

The Man Who Spoke of Inauspicious Dates

 

The last time I saw him, Carlos Carballo was climbing with difficulty into a police van, his hands cuffed behind his back and his head hunched down between his shoulders, while a news ticker running along the bottom of the screen reported the reason for his arrest: the attempted theft of the serge suit of an assassinated politician. It was a fleeting image, spotted by chance on one of the late-night newscasts, after the loudmouthed assault of the commercials and shortly before the sports update, and I remember having thought that thousands of television viewers would be sharing that moment with me, but only I could say without lying that I wasn''t surprised. He was arrested in front of the former home of Liberal leader Jorge EliŽcer Gait‡n, now a museum, where armies of visitors arrive every year to come into brief and vicarious contact with the most famous political crime in Colombian history. The serge suit was the one Gait‡n was wearing on April 9, 1948, the day Juan Roa Sierra, a young man with vague Nazi sympathies, who had flirted with Rosicrucian sects and often conversed with the Virgin Mary, awaited him as he left his office and shot him four times at close range in the middle of a busy street in the broad daylight of a Bogot‡ lunchtime. The bullets left holes in the jacket and the waistcoat, and people who know that visit the museum just to see those dark empty circles. Carlos Carballo, it might have been thought, was one of those visitors.

 

That happened on the second Wednesday of April in the year 2014. It seems Carballo had arrived at the museum around eleven in the morning, and for several hours had been wandering through the house like a worshipper in a trance, or standing with his head tilted in front of the books on criminal law, or watching a documentary with stills of burning tramcars and irate people with raised machetes shown repeatedly over the course of the day. He waited for the last group of uniformed schoolchildren to leave before going up to the second floor, where a glass case protected the suit Gait‡n was wearing on the day of his assassination, and then he began to shatter the thick glass with a knuckle-duster. He managed to put his hand on the shoulder of the midnight-blue jacket, but he didn''t have time for anything else: the second-floor guard, alerted by the crash, was pointing his pistol at him. Carballo noticed then that he''d cut himself on the broken glass of the case, and began to lick his fingers like a stray dog. But he didn''t seem too worried. On television a young girl in a white blouse and tartan skirt summed it up:

 

"It was as if he''d been caught painting on a wall."

 

All the newspapers the next day referred to the frustrated robbery. All of them were surprised, hypocritically shocked, that the myth of Gait‡n still awoke such passions sixty-six years after the events, and some made the comparison for the umpteenth time to the Kennedy assassination, the fiftieth anniversary of which had been marked the previous year without the slightest diminution of its power to fascinate. All of them remembered, in case anyone had forgotten, the unforeseen consequences of the assassination: the city set on fire by the populist protests, the snipers stationed on the rooftops firing indiscriminately, and the country at war in the years that followed. The same information was repeated everywhere, with more or less subtlety and more or less melodrama, sometimes accompanied by images, including those of the furious crowd, which had just lynched the murderer, dragging his half-naked corpse along the cobblestones of Carrera SŽptima, in the direction of the Presidential Palace; but on no media outlet could you find a speculation, as gratuitous as it might be, about the reasons a man who wasn''t mad might have for deciding to break into a glass case in a guarded house and make off with the bullet-ridden clothing of a famous dead man. Nobody posed that question, and our media memory gradually began to forget Carlos Carballo. Swamped by everyday violence, which doesn''t give anyone time to even feel discouraged, Colombians allowed that inoffensive man to fade away like a shadow at twilight. Nobody thought of him again.

 

It''s his story, in part, that I want to tell. I can''t say that I knew him, but I had a level of intimacy with him that only those who have tried to deceive each other achieve. However, to begin this story I must first speak of the man who introduced us, for what happened to me afterward has meaning only if I first tell of the circumstances in which Francisco Benavides came into my life. Yesterday, walking around the places in central Bogot‡ where some of the events that I''m going to explore in this report happened, trying to make sure once more that nothing has escaped me in its painstaking reconstruction, I found myself wondering aloud how I''ve come to know these things I might be better off not knowing: how I had come to spend so much time thinking about these dead people, living with them, talking to them, listening to their regrets and regretting, in turn, not being able to do anything to alleviate their suffering. And I was astonished that it had all started with a few casual words, casually spoken by Dr. Benavides inviting me to his house. At that moment, I thought I was accepting in order not to deny someone my time who had been generous with his own at a difficult moment, so the visit would simply be one more commitment out of the many insignificant things that use up our lives. I couldn''t know how mistaken I''d been, for what happened that night put in motion a frightful mechanism that would only end with this book: this book written in atonement for crimes that, although I did not commit them, I have ended up inheriting.

 

 

Francisco Benavides was one of the most reputable surgeons in the country, a drinker of fine single-malt whiskey and a voracious reader, though he made a point of emphasizing that he was more interested in history than in invented stories, and if he had read a novel of mine, with less pleasure than stoicism, it was only due to the sentimentalism his patients stirred in him. I was not, in the strictest sense, a patient of his, but it was a matter of health that had put us in touch the first time. One night in 1996, a few weeks after moving to Paris, I was trying to decipher an essay by Georges Perec when I noticed a strange presence beneath my jaw on the left side, like a marble under the skin. The marble grew over the next few days, but my concentration on the change in my life, puzzling out the rules of the new city and trying to find my place in it, prevented me from noticing the changes. In a matter of days, I had a growth so swollen that it deformed my face; in the street people looked at me with pity, and a classmate stopped greeting me out of fear of some unknown contagious disease. I underwent many examinations; a whole legion of Parisian doctors were unable to reach a correct diagnosis; one of them, whose name I do not wish to recall, dared to suggest the possibility of lymphatic cancer. That was when my family back in Colombia turned to Benavides to ask if that were possible. Benavides was not an oncologist, but in recent years he had devoted himself to accompanying terminal patients: a sort of private labor he carried out on his own and for no payment whatsoever. So, although it would have been irresponsible to diagnose someone who was on the other side of the ocean, and more so in those days before telephones sent photos and cameras were integrated into computers, Benavides was generous with his time, his knowledge, and his intuition, and his transatlantic support was almost as useful to me as a definitive diagnosis would have been. ÒIf you had what theyÕre looking for,Ó he told me once by telephone, Òthey would have found it by now.Ó The complex logic of the sentence was like a life buoy thrown to a drowning man: you grab on to it without wondering if it might have a hole in it.

 

After a few weeks (which I spent in a timeless time, coexisting with the very concrete possibility that my life was ending at the age of twenty-three, but so numbed by the blow that I couldn''t even feel true fear or true sadness), a general practitioner I met by chance in Belgium, a member of MŽdecins Sans Frontires recently returned from the horrors of Afghanistan, needed just one look to diagnose me with a form of lymphotuberculosis that had disappeared from Europe and could be found (it was explained to me without the quotation marks I will now use) only in the "third world." I was admitted to a hospital in Lige, shut away in a dark room, examined in a way that made my blood burn, then anesthetized, and an incision was made on the right-hand side of my face, below my jawline, so they could extract a lymph node and do a biopsy; a week later, the lab confirmed what the recent arrival had said without needing so many expensive tests. For nine months I followed a triple course of antibiotics that dyed my urine a lurid shade of orange; the inflamed node gradually shrank; one morning I felt dampness on the pillow, and realized something had burst. After that, the contours of my face went back to normal (except for two scars, one discreet and the other, the result of the surgery, more flagrant) and I was finally able to put the whole business behind me, although in all these years I haven''t managed to forget it entirely, for the scars are there to remind me. The feeling of being in debt to Dr. Benavides has never left me. And the only thing that occurred to me when we saw each other in person for the first time, nine years later, was that I had never thanked him properly. Maybe that was why I accepted his entry into my life so easily.

 

We met by chance in the cafeteria of the Santa Fe clinic. My wife had been admitted fifteen days earlier, and we were trying the best we could to cope with the emergency that had forced us to extend our stay in Bogot‡. We had landed at the beginning of August, the day after the Independence Day celebrations, intending to spend the European summer holidays with our families and return to Barcelona in time for her due date. The pregnancy had reached its twenty-fourth week in complete normality, for which we gave thanks every day: we knew from the start that any pregnancy with twins goes by definition in the column labeled high-risk. But the normality was shattered one Sunday, when, after a night of discomfort and strange pains, we visited Dr. Ricardo Rueda, the specialist in complicated pregnancies we''d been consulting since the beginning. After a careful ultrasound, Dr. Rueda gave us the news.

 

"Go home and get some clothes," he told me. "Your wife is staying here until further notice."

 

He explained what was happening with the manners and tone of someone announcing a fire in a cinema: the gravity of the situation must be made clear, but not so forcefully that people kill each other in a stampede for the exit. He described in detail what cervical insufficiency meant, asked M if she''d had any contractions, and finished by communicating the necessity of an urgent operation, to delay the irreversible process we''d begun without knowing. Then he said-finding a fire, trying to prevent a stampede-that premature delivery was an inevitable reality; now we had to try to see how much time we could gain in such an adverse situation, and on the length of this time my daughters'' survival depended. In other words: We had begun a race against the calendar, and knew that the risks, if we lost, were the kinds that destroy lives. From then on, the objective of every decision was to delay the delivery. By the time September began, M had been hidden away in a room on the first floor of the clinic for two weeks, lying down, not allowed to move, and undergoing daily examinations that had put our endurance, our courage, and our nerves to the test.

 

The days'' routine was built around cortisone injections to develop my unborn daughters'' lungs, such frequent blood tests that very soon my wife had no unpunctured spots on her forearms, infernal ultrasounds that could last up to two hours and during which the health of their brains, spinal columns, and two hearts with their accelerated rhythms that never beat in unison were determined. The nightly routine was no less busy. The nurses came in at any moment to check some detail or ask a question, and the constant lack of sleep, as well as the state of tension we were living in, made us irritable. M had begun to have contractions she didn''t feel; to reduce them (I never knew whether their intensity or frequency) she was given a drug called Adalat, responsible, as they explained to us, for her having violent hot flashes that forced me to open the windows wide and try to sleep under the inclement cold of the small hours in Bogot‡. Sometimes, when sleep was already frightened off by the cold or the nurses'' visits, I would go for a walk around the deserted clinic; I''d sit on the leather sofas in the waiting rooms, if I found a place with the lights on, I''d read a few pages of Lolita in an edition from the cover of which Jeremy Irons observed me; or I''d wander down the dim corridors, in those hours when the clinic shut off half the neon panels, walking from the room to the neonatal unit and from there to the waiting room for out-patient surgery. On those nocturnal strolls through white corridors I would try to remember the latest explanations received from the doctors, and to figure the risks the twins would run if they were born in that instant. Then I''d make mental calculations of how much weight the girls had gained in the last few days and the time it would take them to get up to the minimum required for survival, and it unnerved me that my well-being depended on that obstinate counting of grams. I tried not to get too far away from the room, and in any case to have my phone in my hand rather than in some pocket, so I''d be sure to hear it ring. I looked at it frequently: to confirm that I had coverage, that the signal was good, that my daughters would not be born in my absence due to the lack of four black lines on the small gray firmament of a liquid screen.

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Top reviews from the United States

Christopher O'Riley
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Masterpiece
Reviewed in the United States on November 14, 2018
Imagine a random character you see hustled into the back of a police van, a Bogota version of Florida Man caught vandalizing or seeking to steal an 80-year old serge suit from a museum, breaking through the glass with brass knuckles and never even touching the garment in... See more
Imagine a random character you see hustled into the back of a police van, a Bogota version of Florida Man caught vandalizing or seeking to steal an 80-year old serge suit from a museum, breaking through the glass with brass knuckles and never even touching the garment in the end. Imagine that through some other particularly volatile social junctures this same person considered himself an integral personage in your life. Imagine you, as the author, Vasquez, (so named throughout the narrative of The Shape of The Ruins, Vasquez, his works noted in his storied life, his translating William H. Gass'' The Tunnel, the tortuous pre-natal worries about Vasquez'' unborn twin girls) proclaim that the story herein told will be primarily inspired by this loon. Imagine then, all manner of conspiracies, cover-ups, eternal ne''er-do-wells, the basic depravity of human nature and the specific Columbian fire in the blood that wrought years of bloody civil war following the assassinationsof Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948 and of Liberal leader General Uribe Uribe in 1918. Imagine histories as written Survival of the Fittest, zealots turned to unreliable narrators, what is truth as evidence and what is truth as admissible in vulnerable, fallible courts; imagine a thread linking pre-emptive attacks on truth, unseen protagonists, whether such are ephemera of one''s own paranoia, or one''s tenuous grasp on the line between history, autobiography and a novelist''s prerogative to utilize (as he notes at the end) all materials in a novelistic fashion.
Integral, historical grounding aside, this is a definitive and provocative foray into what constitutes truth: seeing or telling? And how insidious are the means by which some witnesses may be silenced or complicit?
A true bearing out of all the extraordinary excitement this writer has generated by his incredible and original work. A masterpiece.
9 people found this helpful
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anapurna
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Shape of Perfection
Reviewed in the United States on October 16, 2019
Juan Garcia Vasquez just might be the finest novelist working in the world today- not simply Latin America. He is certainly at the top of the Latin American heap if nothing else. Roberto Bolano is gone, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is gone. Thus we have Andres Neuman, Javier... See more
Juan Garcia Vasquez just might be the finest novelist working in the world today- not simply Latin America. He is certainly at the top of the Latin American heap if nothing else. Roberto Bolano is gone, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is gone. Thus we have Andres Neuman, Javier Marias, and Patricio Pron among other greats. But JGV stands at the top right now. Shape of the Ruins is, by far, his finest and most complicated work. It is not an easy or leisurely read, and reveals its charms slowly. No, it reveals its charms magnificently. A book ostensibly about conspiracies and political assassinations in Colombia, it''s tentacles stretch far and wide to discuss existential philosophical values that are universal in scope, regardless of what country we call home. But at its core, it is a history lesson about the two major tragedies that have upended Colombia history over the past century or so- the assassination of Raphael Uribe Uribe in 1914 and the Gaitan killing in 1948. The latter created a vacuum in Colombia that first led to the horrific violence of the Bogotaza of 1948 and then fed the fuel that created La Violencia that began in 1958 and which some say has lasted in part until even today. Meticulously researched, this is a book to be read and thought about deeply. There are few writers who can alter your consciousness by their writing- Bolano is one, Knausgaard is another, and Vasquez is a third. The translation is English is superb, but you are truly blessed if you can read this in its original Spanish.
7 people found this helpful
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demanding reader
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Superb and extraordinary novel - a masterpiece.
Reviewed in the United States on March 17, 2019
Definitely one of my best books for 2019...I wholeheartedly agree with all five star reviews of this novel. And no, I did not get it for free from anyone. I read a review in the New York Review of Books by Ariel Dorfman (January 17 2019) and decided to buy the book. Well... See more
Definitely one of my best books for 2019...I wholeheartedly agree with all five star reviews of this novel. And no, I did not get it for free from anyone. I read a review in the New York Review of Books by Ariel Dorfman (January 17 2019) and decided to buy the book. Well worth it!
5 people found this helpful
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Janet Edwards
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The writing was gorgeous.
Reviewed in the United States on July 14, 2020
The writing was gorgeous and brought me to tears more than once. I flag so many wonderful sentences and paragraphs it was getting a bit over the top. I did find I''d put down the book for a while and then pick it up again. It moved slowly in parts, there is little... See more
The writing was gorgeous and brought me to tears more than once. I flag so many wonderful sentences and paragraphs it was getting a bit over the top. I did find I''d put down the book for a while and then pick it up again. It moved slowly in parts, there is little dialogue, but the story pulled me back each time. Towards the end I began thinking it was a bit tedious, but then I needed that whole line of story to make the end what it was. Yes, I enjoyed the book.
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Tom D
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Well done!
Reviewed in the United States on February 25, 2019
This story is beautifully woven and the words are beautifully put to tell a fascinating story within a story. The author cautions the reader that it is a work of fiction and not to make assumptions, but the events are nicely researched and lend themselves to a complete... See more
This story is beautifully woven and the words are beautifully put to tell a fascinating story within a story. The author cautions the reader that it is a work of fiction and not to make assumptions, but the events are nicely researched and lend themselves to a complete immersion and acceptance.
5 people found this helpful
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Kindle Customer
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
History without Feelings
Reviewed in the United States on April 26, 2021
This book reads like 500 pages of a long newspaper article interspersed with what ifs

Absolutely no feelings among any characters in the book except for their sincere yet imagined beliefs in conspiracy behind several murders of historical significance
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Jyothi
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very intense
Reviewed in the United States on July 14, 2019
Found this a ‘not so easy read’. The translation was great. The narration kept it authentic.
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Charlie
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Couldn''t put it down.
Reviewed in the United States on June 20, 2020
It keep me wanting more. Can''t wait until I read the next book. Author has me trapped in his web of words.
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José Afonso Guerra Baião
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Shape of ruins
Reviewed in Brazil on July 22, 2020
Numa ótima versão em inglês, que preferi pelo melhor preço, essa extraordinária narrativa de Vazquez, que navega entre lenda e história, ficção e verdade, teoria da conspiração e registros históricos.
Numa ótima versão em inglês, que preferi pelo melhor preço, essa extraordinária narrativa de Vazquez, que navega entre lenda e história, ficção e verdade, teoria da conspiração e registros históricos.
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P. Caron
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Long winded but satisfying story
Reviewed in Germany on December 15, 2018
An interesting, though sometimes rambling trip through Columbian history.
An interesting, though sometimes rambling trip through Columbian history.
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FictionFan
1.0 out of 5 starsVine Customer Review of Free Product
… that shape being an amorphous mass...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 20, 2018
A man, who shares the name and life of the author, tells the story of umpteen real assassinations in Colombia and America. I abandoned it at page 270 – just after the halfway mark – so maybe a fascinating plot emerges after that. One thing’s for sure, it didn’t emerge...See more
A man, who shares the name and life of the author, tells the story of umpteen real assassinations in Colombia and America. I abandoned it at page 270 – just after the halfway mark – so maybe a fascinating plot emerges after that. One thing’s for sure, it didn’t emerge before it! It starts off quite well, telling the story of how the narrator got sucked into a little group of conspiracy theorists who believed that there was more to the 1948 assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitan, a leading left-wing Colombian political figure, than the authorities had allowed to be revealed. At this point I thought I was going to love it, and I raced through the first 150 or so pages, during which the book compares Gaitan’s assassination and associated conspiracy theories to those surrounding the assassination of JFK, and discusses how both events adversely affected the nations in which they happened; in the case of Colombia, leading to years of violence. Then suddenly the book moves back in time to tell, in detail, of the assassination (and associated conspiracy theories) of Rafael Uribe Uribe, another leading left-wing political figure, in 1914, with a bit of comparison to the assassination carried out by Gavrilo Princip that provided the trigger for WW1. Okay, I could go along with that, though it was beginning to feel very much like a history of Colombia told backwards. Then suddenly the book moves back in time again to tell, in detail, of the attempted assassination of some other guy whose name escapes me but was doubtless another leading left-wing political figure, at some date which I couldn’t care less about. By now I had reached about page 250 – a week that took me. The following three days saw me advance by twenty pages, so I had to conclude that the book had well and truly lost my interest, and I abandoned it. Some reviewers have compared the writing to Javier Marias. Some see this as a good thing, others not so much. I fall into the latter camp. I’ve only read one book by Marias and I agree the rambling circuitous over-wordy style is similar. However, Marias’ writing, while it rather drove me up the wall, at least contains some beautiful prose and some truly thought-provoking ideas and images. The writing in this one is plain to the point of being monotone, with fifty words for every ten that are required; and for the most part is a straight recounting of (I assume true) facts, including photos and extracts from documents. I tried to assume that perhaps it was my ignorance of Colombian history that was causing me to lose all interest, but frankly if a British writer started by telling a story about Thatcher, then backtracked to Churchill, then Lloyd George, then Disraeli, I’d have found it equally tedious, interesting though I find each of those people individually. Given that there were another 240 pages to go, I was concerned we might end up back at Cain and Abel and the associated conspiracy theories that no doubt grew up around that... The book probably deserves more, but since it failed to maintain my interest enough to keep me turning pages, one star it is.
A man, who shares the name and life of the author, tells the story of umpteen real assassinations in Colombia and America. I abandoned it at page 270 – just after the halfway mark – so maybe a fascinating plot emerges after that. One thing’s for sure, it didn’t emerge before it!

It starts off quite well, telling the story of how the narrator got sucked into a little group of conspiracy theorists who believed that there was more to the 1948 assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitan, a leading left-wing Colombian political figure, than the authorities had allowed to be revealed. At this point I thought I was going to love it, and I raced through the first 150 or so pages, during which the book compares Gaitan’s assassination and associated conspiracy theories to those surrounding the assassination of JFK, and discusses how both events adversely affected the nations in which they happened; in the case of Colombia, leading to years of violence. Then suddenly the book moves back in time to tell, in detail, of the assassination (and associated conspiracy theories) of Rafael Uribe Uribe, another leading left-wing political figure, in 1914, with a bit of comparison to the assassination carried out by Gavrilo Princip that provided the trigger for WW1. Okay, I could go along with that, though it was beginning to feel very much like a history of Colombia told backwards.

Then suddenly the book moves back in time again to tell, in detail, of the attempted assassination of some other guy whose name escapes me but was doubtless another leading left-wing political figure, at some date which I couldn’t care less about. By now I had reached about page 250 – a week that took me. The following three days saw me advance by twenty pages, so I had to conclude that the book had well and truly lost my interest, and I abandoned it.

Some reviewers have compared the writing to Javier Marias. Some see this as a good thing, others not so much. I fall into the latter camp. I’ve only read one book by Marias and I agree the rambling circuitous over-wordy style is similar. However, Marias’ writing, while it rather drove me up the wall, at least contains some beautiful prose and some truly thought-provoking ideas and images. The writing in this one is plain to the point of being monotone, with fifty words for every ten that are required; and for the most part is a straight recounting of (I assume true) facts, including photos and extracts from documents. I tried to assume that perhaps it was my ignorance of Colombian history that was causing me to lose all interest, but frankly if a British writer started by telling a story about Thatcher, then backtracked to Churchill, then Lloyd George, then Disraeli, I’d have found it equally tedious, interesting though I find each of those people individually. Given that there were another 240 pages to go, I was concerned we might end up back at Cain and Abel and the associated conspiracy theories that no doubt grew up around that...

The book probably deserves more, but since it failed to maintain my interest enough to keep me turning pages, one star it is.
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P. Millar
5.0 out of 5 starsVine Customer Review of Free Product
Colombian Beauty ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 29, 2019
A melange of auto-fiction, historical narrative, true crime, thriller, obsessions and political discourse this book interrogates where the truth ends and the lies start, or, where the lies end and the truth starts. Or both. Or neither. An uncategorisable feat of literary...See more
A melange of auto-fiction, historical narrative, true crime, thriller, obsessions and political discourse this book interrogates where the truth ends and the lies start, or, where the lies end and the truth starts. Or both. Or neither. An uncategorisable feat of literary fiction which starts with examining the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (a prominent Colombian politician) in 1948 by way of a conspiracy theorist and goes on to take in the assassination of Rafael Uribe Uribe (another prominent Colombian politician) in 1914. Both of these events are pivotal moments in Colombian history and Gaitan is Colombia''s ''JFK''. The narrator is a writer called Juan Gabriel Vasquez and he gets to know a man called Carballo who is obsessed with the assassinations and has spent his life trying to find the links between them and other events. Vasquez is the sceptic who - in turn - is fascinated with Carballo (and the assassinations) and why he believes in so-called ''self-evident truths''. Vasquez shows us the unreliability of witnesses, the distortion of history and memory, and how people will tend to believe in anything as long as it offers a ''black & white'' narrative of events which, on the face of it, seem inexplicable. Along the way he interweaves his own hopes, fears, anxieties, self-knowledge of his obsessiveness which conflicts with his familial life and, perhaps, he is more like Carballo than he realises. This is a great work of modern literature and if you like being challenged, have an interest in politics, world events, history, memoir and enjoy being gripped by what you read then this is a book which will deliver all of that.
A melange of auto-fiction, historical narrative, true crime, thriller, obsessions and political discourse this book interrogates where the truth ends and the lies start, or, where the lies end and the truth starts. Or both. Or neither. An uncategorisable feat of literary fiction which starts with examining the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (a prominent Colombian politician) in 1948 by way of a conspiracy theorist and goes on to take in the assassination of Rafael Uribe Uribe (another prominent Colombian politician) in 1914. Both of these events are pivotal moments in Colombian history and Gaitan is Colombia''s ''JFK''.

The narrator is a writer called Juan Gabriel Vasquez and he gets to know a man called Carballo who is obsessed with the assassinations and has spent his life trying to find the links between them and other events. Vasquez is the sceptic who - in turn - is fascinated with Carballo (and the assassinations) and why he believes in so-called ''self-evident truths''. Vasquez shows us the unreliability of witnesses, the distortion of history and memory, and how people will tend to believe in anything as long as it offers a ''black & white'' narrative of events which, on the face of it, seem inexplicable. Along the way he interweaves his own hopes, fears, anxieties, self-knowledge of his obsessiveness which conflicts with his familial life and, perhaps, he is more like Carballo than he realises.

This is a great work of modern literature and if you like being challenged, have an interest in politics, world events, history, memoir and enjoy being gripped by what you read then this is a book which will deliver all of that.
One person found this helpful
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metacritic
4.0 out of 5 starsVine Customer Review of Free Product
Interesting Mix Of Styles
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 5, 2020
Review for The Shape of the Ruins: Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019. I got this for a friend being an avid reader, and later read the book myself also. The review is combination of both of our experiences reading the book. Firstly this version of the...See more
Review for The Shape of the Ruins: Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019. I got this for a friend being an avid reader, and later read the book myself also. The review is combination of both of our experiences reading the book. Firstly this version of the novel is a translation of the original (of which I have not read as it''s written in Spanish) so you would expect at least a tiny loss of interpretation during the translation. Nonetheless it remains faithful to the original story. A very intelligent blend of historical biography, fiction, and mystery. The author creates a fictitious version of himself for the story and his involvement in investigating a conspiracy regarding assassination of two high profile Colombian political leaders in the early twentieth century. The plot structure is interesting, with plenty of twists keeping you guessing all the way, it''s a book which was one of the more challenging books I have read in a while, and I felt I made an achievement in finishing it. It''s kind of mish mash of factual, historical and fiction all intertwined to form the narrative of the book. Having a friend also read this just before I had someone to discuss this with in some detail to assess how much I had absorbed, and understood.
Review for The Shape of the Ruins: Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019.

I got this for a friend being an avid reader, and later read the book myself also. The review is combination of both of our experiences reading the book.

Firstly this version of the novel is a translation of the original (of which I have not read as it''s written in Spanish) so you would expect at least a tiny loss of interpretation during the translation. Nonetheless it remains faithful to the original story. A very intelligent blend of historical biography, fiction, and mystery. The author creates a fictitious version of himself for the story and his involvement in investigating a conspiracy regarding assassination of two high profile Colombian political leaders in the early twentieth century. The plot structure is interesting, with plenty of twists keeping you guessing all the way, it''s a book which was one of the more challenging books I have read in a while, and I felt I made an achievement in finishing it. It''s kind of mish mash of factual, historical and fiction all intertwined to form the narrative of the book. Having a friend also read this just before I had someone to discuss this with in some detail to assess how much I had absorbed, and understood.
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