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The Informers
by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Mysteries, police procedurals, and historical fiction are some of my guilty pleasures. The Informers (2009, originally published in Spanish in 2004) by the young Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vásquez has elements of all three genres, plus it is beautifully written to boot.

A Colombian journalist Gabriel Santoro writes a memoir of Jewish family friend Sara Guterman, whose family settled in Colombia during World War II. As part of his research for A Life in Exile Gabriel learns that the FBI and the State Department had compiled a blacklist of suspected Axis sympathizers during the war. Under the Enemy Alien Control Program almost 7,000 German nationals were interned in detention camps in the United States. Washington also pressured allies in Latin America to monitor and detain Germans and Austrians suspected of working for the Third Reich, often on the basis of sketchy intelligence. In Colombia, Gabriel learns, innocent anti-fascist exiles had their properties and businesses confiscated, and were either imprisoned alongside Nazi agents or sent off to internment camps in the United States.

Gabriel is shocked when he learns that his ailing father, a prominent college professor, has written a blistering review of A Life in Exile. As he explores why his father would do such a thing, he enlists Sara as his informer, who sheds light on how Gabriel’s father and other well known Colombians benefited from ratting out German and Austrian refugees, often with tragic consequences. His son’s book has forced Gabriel’s dad to confront a past that has haunted him for decades.

On the face of it, this seems like just another World War II story about espionage and intrigue, but Vásquez is not just interested in exposing a buried chapter of his nation’s past. Set in 1988, a tumultuous moment when Colombia is awash in kidnappings, guerrilla insurgency, paramilitary violence, and drug cartels, this is also a perceptive commentary on a country coming apart at the seams. When Gabriel’s father dies in a suspicious car accident, the protagonist decides to investigate and write a second book, this one about his father’s past and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. A great read!

1 comment | Find in library

Submitted by jmontgom on Sat, 04/19/2014 - 9:15am.
Thanks Allen. This is a great suggestion. Since someone had already beat me to our copy, I decided to try another of his works, The Secret History of Costaguana. Good so far. It seems an appropriate book to read in honor of the passing of Garcia Marquez earlier this week.