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Celebrating FILBo: A Selection of Colombian Novels You Should Add to Your To-Read List

By Megan Cradock, Caroline Dowse, Ana Cecilia Matute and Zalak Shah


The FILBo, Feria Internacional del Libro de Bogotá, or the International Book Fair of Bogotá in English, is one of the biggest book fairs in Latin America. Every year, it showcases a guest country’s unique culture. Over its 35 years, many countries have participated, including the Netherlands, France, Japan and more. This year, Brazil was the invited country, and the proposed topic was nature – how we read it and why. Simultaneously, this year the fair celebrated the 100th anniversary of one of Colombia's most iconic books, The Vortex by José Eustasio Rivera, which explores the Colombian jungle and the secretive exploitation of workers. To celebrate this year's edition and to invite you to participate next year, here are some books for you to start exploring the diversity in the Colombian narrative.


The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Transl. Anne McLean)


Arguably one of the most-read books in recent years in Colombia, this novel delves into a period spanning from the present to the 1980s, when drug trafficking reached its peak and Pablo Escobar was alive. This turbulent chapter in Colombian history is explored through an investigation initiated by Antonio Yammara as he recovers from an accident. He seeks to unravel the life of Ricardo Laverde, a mysterious figure often found in the same bar where Yammara began drinking.


It is a mystery exploring Bogotá and Medellín. Through delving into the past, a deeper understanding of the impact of drug trafficking on Colombian society emerges, revealing how it changed the lives of individuals from diverse backgrounds and social strata. Vásquez’s book is a page-turner that explores the connections between multiple events showing the cruelty behind drug cartels.


The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel García Márquez (Transl. Edith Grossman)


In this re-imagining of General Simón Bolívar, the narrative twists, turns and loops back upon itself, much like the labyrinth in its title, as it recounts a long life of memories. It's 1830 and the general is making his final journey along the Magdalena River.


As he travels, accompanied always by his companion, José Palacios, Bolívar reflects on the years passed: the loves, allies, political opponents and assassination attempts that have populated his life. Dwelling on success and failure, glory and defeat, we follow the tangled web of the general's thoughts as he considers his actions over the years and people's perceptions of him. He fears becoming ordinary and mundane, and his trek along the river is in equal parts a physical journey towards death, and a philosophical journey as he comes to terms with being forgotten by the world he wanted to change.


The Armies by Evelio Rosero (Transl. Anne McLean)


The Armies is a novella by Evelio Rosero. It tells the story of Ismail, a retired teacher living in a small town called San José. He spends his days in his garden spying on his attractive neighbour Geraldina, who likes to sunbathe naked. The town is quiet and peaceful, but outside the war is raging between the army, paramilitary groups, guerrillas and drug lords, who are all fighting for power, and San José gets caught in the crossfire. People start disappearing, including Ismail’s wife. As he searches for her, he loses his grip on reality as he, and the town, face an uncertain future.


At 215 pages, this is a short but moving story. It is sometimes disorientating as we experience the deterioration of Ismail’s mental health, but it packs an emotional punch as it deals with the horror of war and the despair of the people caught up in it.


Delirium by Laura Restrepo (Transl. Natasha Wimmer)

 

Set in 1980s Bogotá, Delirium is a story of wealth, corruption, class divide, sexism and violence. Told from multiple perspectives, we are taken on a journey that is equal parts mysterious and disturbing.

 

When Aguilar returns home from a business trip, he finds his wife, Agustina, has fallen into a deep state of delirium and insanity. As he tries to unravel the mystery of what must have happened when he was gone, we are introduced to different characters who shaped Agustina’s life at various points of her life. A violent father, her affection for her younger brother and the need to protect him from their father’s rage and her money-launderer lover all reveal Agustina’s traumatic past and the distress she’s kept hidden for years. On the face of it, Delirium is a novel of how an individual descends into madness; but the story between the lines reveals a deeper understanding of how hunger for money and power ruins the very fabric of a society and leaves a long line of casualties behind it. 

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