22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Portrait Juan Gabriel Vásquez
© Nina Subin

Juan Gabriel Vásquez was born in 1973 in Bogotá, Colombia, where he studied law before pursuing a degree in Latin American literature in Paris (1996–1999). Along with his writing work, Vásquez has also translated texts by Victor Hugo, E. M. Foster and John Dos Passos into Spanish and worked as a columnist for the Columbian journal »El Spectador«.

His early literary work »Los amantes de Todos los Santos« (2001), was published in German translation (»Die Liebenden von Allerheiligen«, 2013; tr. The Lovers of All Saints Day). These seven stories, while highly diverse at first glance, all reveal the universal and yet always individual tensions in personal relationships between the poles of love and antipathy, togetherness and solitude. In 2004 Vásquez published a short biography of the British writer Joseph Conrad, another writer who believed that writing about history from an objective standpoint was impossible; novels offer Vásquez an opportunity to uncover suppressed versions of the past which might assist in understanding and determining the future. Vásquez was widely praised for his 2004 novel »Los informantes« (2008; En. »The Informers«, 2008). It depicts a young journalist whose research reveals the fate of German Jews who successfully fled to Colombia, where they aroused envy and were wrongly denounced as Nazis, and also shows how the cover-up of such cases affects the country to the present day. Similarly, his novel »Historia secreta de Costaguana« (2007; En. »The Secret History of Costaguana«, 2010) demonstrates »a sense of history which has become ever rarer in contemporary Latin American literature in recent years« (»NZZ«). The construction of the Panama Canal here serves as the backdrop to a story which skilfully interweaves the development of Joseph Conrad’s novel »Nostromo« (1904) with the adventures of a Colombian rogue. While there are many who regard Vásquez as the greatest successor to Gabriel García Márquez, the author himself sees his narrative style as an alternative to that writer’s magic realism. In 2010 he published »El ruido de las cosas al caer« (En. »The Sound of Things Falling«, 2012), which received the Premio Alfaguara de Novela in 2011. Here Vásquez once again combines fiction and history to sketch a panorama of Colombian society which is still defined by the Escobar-era drug trade and the bloody conflicts which accompanied it.