Adam Mansbach reviews Juan Gabriel Vásquez' The Informers
The past is a shadow-bound, elusive creature in Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vásquez's "The Informers." When pursued it may flee, or, if cornered, it may unleash terrible truths. Disturb it even slightly and it can subsume the present, as a journalist learns when his memoir of a family friend inadvertently illuminates events his father -- and his country -- would prefer remained forgotten."The Informers" is narrated by Gabriel Santoro, a Bogotá reporter and author of a book that recounts the life story of a Jewish German immigrant named Sara Guterman whose family was one of many to escape to Colombia during the early years of Nazism. The primary distinction of "A Life in Exile," this book within a book, is the review it receives from Santoro's identically named father. The elder Santoro, a professor with a reputation as the moral conscience of the embattled nation, inexplicably savages the book in a prominent newspaper.When his son confronts him, the scholar elaborates on his dismissal: "Memory isn't public. . . . [T]hose who through prayer or pretense had arrived at a certain conciliation, are now back to square one. . . . you come along, white knight of history, to display your courage by awakening things . . . you and your parasitical book, your exploitative book, your intrusive book."