Two friends take divergent paths through the priesthood in war-torn Colombia, keeping their homosexuality under wraps.
Manrique’s sixth novel (Cervantes Street, 2012, etc.) is set against the drug-fueled violence that’s afflicted the author’s native Colombia for decades—families “hacked to pieces” by soldiers, severed heads displayed as threats by bandoleros. The church is one of the few escape hatches out of poverty and bloodshed, so two young men, Lucas and Ignacio, are nudged into the priesthood. They meet in high school in the early 1990s, and though they have different temperaments—Lucas is gregarious and earnest, Ignacio moody and headstrong—they quickly develop a romantic affection for each other that’s complicated by both church doctrine and their different backgrounds. (“[Ignacio] was an Indian and Lucas was a white-looking mestizo,” a particular pressure point for Ignacio.) The two wind up at the same seminary, they launch a relationship, keeping their affair hidden for the next decade and a half while they lead separate parishes in Bogota. (Ignacio’s is a particularly challenging assignment, filled with refugees from drug violence.) Stress, shame, questioning God, and a descent into drugs and reckless sex ensue, which Manrique depicts more in a spirit of lament than moral judgment—the noble urge to do God’s work warps under the pressure to remain chaste and quiet our affections. Still, the story’s arc leans toward melodrama, evoking a bygone era of gay romance where a lover was all but obligated to die for perceived sins. That's tempered somewhat by Manrique's thoughtful use of the theological backdrop following Ignacio’s mournful contemplation of God as a being “drunk on his infinite inventiveness,” using men as playthings.
A novel that strives to encompass drug violence, faith, and sexuality, though not entirely cohesively.