Monday, April 10, 2017

“Reputations” by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Javier Mallarino is 65, and for a long time has sat atop the pinnacle of influence in Bogota, Colombia. He is the editorial cartoonist for a major newspaper. Other cartoonists compete, but no one is Mallarino, and no one has been even close to the legend for almost 40 years. In his cartoons, he draws the truth, the truth or truths most won’t say or even openly acknowledge. Once Mallarino draws his cartoons and speaks that truth, the world can change.

He is being honored for his work, and it is unusual that few really know what he looks like. Everyone comes to the celebration, including his ex-wife. Others speak, and are applauded. He speaks, and his is cheered. It is a memorable evening.

Another person attending, with friends, is a 35-year-old woman named Samanta Leal. As she watches the slide show of Mallarino’s life, she begins to recognize scenes of his home. She knows she has been there before, but it’s as if her memory has been almost wiped clean. So she poses as a journalist and asks Mallarino for an interview. Both their worlds will change.

Reputations is the fourth novel by Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vasquez (translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean). It is a relatively short novel, some 190 pages, but it is a story carefully packed with the story of a man, his place in society, his memories, and his understanding of himself. And in a few short minutes, it will all blow apart, as he begins to understand that memory and reality are often very different things.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Semanta Leal is almost the perfect opposite of Mallarino. She has no reputation, and no memories of much of her childhood, except for the fact that her father abandoned the family. But she recognizes Mallarino’s house, and she wants to find out what happened there, because she knows something happened. And to help her, Mallarino must consider whether to throw everything away, including his reputation.

Vasquez is the author of three previous novels, The Informers (2009); The Secret History of Costaguana (2012); and The Sound of Things Falling (2013); and a short story collection, Lovers on All Saints’ Day. His novels have been translated into 28 languages worldwide.

Reputations is a fascinating novel, raising questions of identity and memory, and how we know and remember ourselves.

Top photograph of Bogota, Colombia, by NM KV via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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