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3.7 out of 5 stars
7
3.7 out of 5 stars
The Informers: Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
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on 17 August 2017
I just could not get into this at all - so tedious. I'd read The Sound of Things Falling and loved it, so wanted to try another, but this really was not what I was expecting.
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on 14 October 2009
'The Informers' is a novel that deals with the echoes of the Second World War, namely: how do you live with the choices you made in wartime? However, though it concerns Colombia's murky wartime policies and people who both exploited them or fell victim to them, Vasquez's novel is far from just a book about the war.

Focused on the life of Gabriel Santoro, an ailing legal academic, 'The Informers' is narrated by his son (who has the same name) as he slowly unravels everything he thought he knew about his father. The novel is packed with ideas and theories. It obviously looks at the war and how Colombia responded to international pressure, but it also looks at how Colombians dealt with European immigration and how those immigrants (German Nazis and German Jews) dealt with each other. There is much here about fathers and sons, truth and deception, alienation and identity, assimilation and its value all of which is deftly woven into a gripping book.

Vasquez makes this an intensely readable book, with enough suspense to keep you hooked but above all with a real love of language. Both Gabriel Santoros revel in the use of language and much is said about native languages and the comfort that can be found in speaking them. Vasquez displays a real knowledge of the complexities of conversation (the tensions of things left unsaid, the awkwardness of talking face-to-face, the discomfort of hearing too much from a speaker) and cleverly juxtaposes this with the apparent certainties of the written word as Gabriel Santoro jr attempts to write his book as honestly as he can.

This is an unusual war story but a fascinating one with much that lingers beyond the final page. Definitely worth a read.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 August 2015
Juan Gabriel Vasquez's first novel explores Colombia's fluctuating attitude to the Nazis during World War II, and its sometimes traumatic results. Gabriel Santoro is a young journalist who has just published his first book - an account of the life of family friend Sara, whose family, Jewish refugees from Nazis Germany, settled in Colombia, a country both known at the time for Fascist sympathies and - once World War II had got underway and the Colombians joined the Allies - for denunciation of those who did sympathize with the Nazis. Sara and her family were among the lucky ones - her father established a successful hotel, and Sara in due course married a Colombian and settled down to a comfortable bourgeois life. But for others - including some of Sara's family's acquaintances, things were not so good. It all makes for a gripping story, and Gabriel's book is not surprisingly a success. However, it has one major critic - Gabriel's father, a former lawyer turned academic, who ruthlessly denounces his son in a semi-anonymous review. Father and son only make up when Gabriel's father (confusingly also called Gabriel) is diagnosed with a serious heart condition some months later. He recovers from a live-saving operation, and father and son begin to get on so much better that Gabriel is nearly ready to ask his father about the review - and then Gabriel père is killed in a car crash. The next thing Gabriel hears, his father's girlfriend is going on TV to denounce his father for being an informer, who denounced an innocent German immigrant as a Nazi sympathizer during World War II, thus causing him to lose his job and his wife, and eventually commit suicide. Shocked, Gabriel turns to Sara, who can tell him at least some of Gabriel père's past - but not everything. Determined to fill in the gaps in Sara's story, Gabriel begin a quest for the truth that will eventually lead him to the town where his father went just before he died, and to the son of the man his father may have betrayed.

Vasquez writes lucidly and interestingly about an aspect of Colombia's past that I suspect will be unknown to may Westerners - as a historical document this novel is fascinating. He also tackles effectively themes of regret, difficult parent/children relationships, trust and the impossibility of ever knowing the entire truth about people, all in elegant and well-translated prose. He also has a gift for capturing specific moments - Sara watching as her friend Enrique insults a Nazi sympathizer by lobbing a bread roll at him, Gabriel-the-elder savouring a cheese bap while wandering in the Colombian countryside. All this makes the book worthy of at least four stars. But - and I'm still not entirely sure why - though I admired it I have to say I never felt very emotionally involved. This is a very intellectual book, where philosophical debate and intellectual ideas are more important than people. All the characters tended to speak in the same rather dry, detached tone (though the men also made several jokes about sex, as in most Latin American novels). Gabriel seemed an oddly passionless narrator - although he encountered sudden death at least twice in the novel he never seemed to show much grief, he had few emotional ties apart from the woman 'T' who he meets occasionally for a romantic encounter ('we didn't marry but we like to think that in another life we might have' he comments laconically) and he seemed to have little going on in his life outside work and visits to Sara and his father. Sara's voice was not sufficiently different to Gabriel's, and we never learnt quite enough about her - whether she missed Germany, if her wartime experiences had scarred her, what her marriage had been like and whether she'd been in love with Gabriel's father. She remained a 'recorder of facts' more than anything else. In the end, only old Gabriel came across as a fully emotional human being - and even he came across as oddly detached (in his desire to attack his son in print, rather than talk to him about the past, for example). Some aspects of the book were emotionally unbelievable - such as Gabriel ringing Angelina to accuse her of ratting on his father, and then ending up having a long, intimate conversation with her. We also learnt very little about certain relationships in the book: Sara's marriage, or how Gabriel's mother died and how this affected father and son. And towards the end I began to find the ultra-intellectual narrative devices - the fact that the book we are reading might in fact be Gabriel Santoro's second book; the long meditation on how one can never quite be sure of anything in the final pages - a bit contrived.

A book much more about thoughts than emotions, in the end, and thus for me rather dry - but I'd still recommend it as a valuable and readable documentation of Colombian history.
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on 10 January 2016
The Informers is a reflexive novel that explores a little known period of Colombian history when many Germans living in the country were blacklisted and interned at the insistence of the United States and its subsequent effects. Using a plot device of a falling out between father and son over the publication of a biography of a family friend – a German Jew who fled to Colombia in the 1930s – Vásquez’s narrative charts three intertwined family histories: a Jewish German family who has fled from Nazi Germany to start a new life in Columbia; a German-Colombian family who is severely affected by internment; and a Colombian family who were initially friends of both German families. The father and son belong to the latter, with the son keen to understand the history of the families, while the father would prefer the past remains largely forgotten. While the story is interesting and at times nicely written, Vásquez’s style was not to my taste, with the storytelling being overly reflexive, often to the point of navel gazing, and the pace slowing to almost a standstill at times. My sense was that it could have done with a good edit and it would have been more engaging if it had included more personal interchanges (the dialogue between characters is by far the best bits in the telling). Overall: interesting for the history, but fairly hard work to wade through despite the often nice prose and philosophical observations.
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on 16 August 2016
high class wonderful writing (and translation) - intriguing meta-narrative in a way - he's got a great rep in US, Spain and UK - i read this on holiday on a beach, and it was engrossing enough to keep me in my deck chair .. very serious and smart too
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on 12 September 2013
I have read all of Juan Gabriel Vasquez in English one book after the other. they are all very good and he is a new find for me.
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on 18 May 2009
There are some flaws and short cuts in this novel, but there is no doubting the author's talent and capacity to keep you reading. Watch out for more good things from him.
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