A Colombian political cartoonist has second thoughts about a takedown he delivered decades earlier.
As Vásquez’s spare but powerful novel opens, Javier is comfortably settled into a long career as an acclaimed satirist: luminaries pack a theater for an event celebrating his life, culminating with the announcement of a postage stamp bearing his likeness. (Even his estranged wife is in attendance.) The good feelings are wrecked the next day, however, with the arrival in his remote home of Samanta, who wants to discuss some history. Twenty-eight years earlier she was a friend of Javier’s daughter, Beatriz, and one evening the pair of 7-year-olds accidentally got drunk on the dregs of the glasses at a party. The next day Javier, projecting his anxieties, drew a cartoon suggesting a congressman who attended the party was a pedophile, though he wasn’t near the girls. From there, Vásquez (The Sound of Things Falling, 2014, etc.) contemplates the fickle nature of reputations and how callowness and selfishness can engineer their destruction. “Life turns us into caricatures of ourselves,” Javier bemusedly observes during the celebration of his career, but as the story progresses it’s clear he’s spent little time thinking that he himself might be affected by a lifetime of exaggerating flaws and mocking foibles—and ignoring his own anger and neglectfulness. Samanta and Javier’s investigation of the fate of the ruined congressman and his family troubles those around him: “The last thing you want to do is start asking questions,” his editor tells him, a peculiar utterance from a newspaperman. Though the scope is less broad than Vásquez’s other novels, it has plenty of philosophical bite, and he’s savvy about our private urges to preen and elevate ourselves.
A brisk and sophisticated study of a conscience in crisis.