The summer before my freshman year of college, I got a mailing indicating that my roommate was going to be from Bogota, Columbia. I only knew Bogota from the news, and the news was of the drug wars there. My roommate proved to have a tremendous sense of humor. He wrote me a great letter, acknowledging all of the Columbian stereotypes, and then explaining that none of them described him.

Vasquez is just a bit younger than us. He lived through what I only read a bit about in the headlines. And he’s written here about Antonio who indirectly becomes entangled in those headlines. What his story made me realize is that there were people behind those headlines, not only those involved, but those they left behind. And when Antonio befriends one man involved, he crosses a line that marks him; it’s a mark he cannot shake. It’s also a mark that he wants desperately to understand.

Vasquez’s writing is lyrical and powerful. The juxtaposition of Silva’s “Nocturne” ( and a tape we later get to hear for ourselves is stunning. With just a few absolutely necessary characters, Vasquez creates a vivid portrayal of the insiders and outsiders, of Columbians and Americans, of the innocent and the innocents, and of the personal and political. There are passages that remind me of Saramago.

Vasquez is exploring here. What is the purpose of memory? For an individual? For a city? And the structure of this novel supports these questions about memory. This story is not so much told as woven. And it’s woven extremely well.