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The Secret History of Costaguana

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  358 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
A bold historical novel from "one of the most original new voices of Latin American literature" (Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature).

In the early twentieth century, a struggling Joseph Conrad wrote his great novel Nostromo, about a South American republic he named Costaguana. It was inspired by the geography and history of Colombia, where Conra
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 9th 2011 by Riverhead Books (first published 2007)
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Jim Fonseca
Jul 15, 2015 Jim Fonseca rated it really liked it
This novel is kind of a “three-fer” – three stories wrapped around one. Mostly it’s a historical novel about Panama, at the time when the Isthmus was still part of the nation of Colombia. The story is built around the failed attempt by the French to construct a canal in the late 1800’s, before the US engineered a coup to split Panama off from Colombia and take over the canal project. Although the French effort was led by a brilliant engineer, de Lesseps, who built the Suez Canal, the project was ...more
Aug 13, 2014 Chrissie rated it liked it
If you want to understand the history of Colombia and the birth of Panama, this book is perhaps not the place to start. The multitude of generals and numerous wars can be confusing. The speed with which names and events are thrown at you is daunting. Previous knowledge helps. Check out David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, which covers both how the Panama Canal came into existences and the split between Panama and Colombia. It doesn't cover Co ...more
Patricia O'Sullivan
Jan 21, 2012 Patricia O'Sullivan rated it really liked it
Growing up during France’s disastrous attempt to construct a canal across Panama, José Altamirano’s young life is shaped by the business, politics, disease, and warfare associated with the project. Years later, however, his life becomes a quest to reclaim the life he feels he lost after telling his story to Joseph Conrad, who incorporates Altamirano’s experiences into his novel, Nostromo, set in the fictional South American country of Costaguana. “I disappeared from history by magic,” Altamirano ...more
Dec 14, 2016 Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
It took me three attempts to read this book in full but I'm so glad I did. It's definitely very rewarding. A knowledge of Joseph Conrad and of Panama-Colombia history would be useful, though it was kind of fun to read this and have no idea what was true and what wasn't (I definitely want to know if the anal abcess story is true!). Part of what made this book a bit hard for me was all the names, but at a certain point I was just like well, I'm just going to keep reading and not be too fussed if I ...more
Apr 25, 2013 Gabriel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excelente libro. Está muy bien escrito, además de transmitir cada una de las ideas y sentimientos con mucha claridad. Es un libro que se puede leer y disfrutar sin conocimientos previos, pero que se vuelve una verdadera joya conociendo un poco de la historia colombiana y habiendo tenido contacto con otros libros. Fue un verdadero placer para mí haber leído esta novela y aumenta mi admiración por Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Recomendado.
Jose Luis
Apr 09, 2014 Jose Luis rated it it was ok
Interesante historia, pero me desquició su narrativa... querido escritor, como lector del juzgado al que Ud. me nombró, lo condeno a no escribir más de esa manera tan burlonamente desordenada. Cúmplase.
Dina Rahajaharison
"Le salon de Santiago Pérez Triana, un lieu constitué des résidus de la politique colombienne, de ses jeux et de ses déloyautés, de sa cruauté infinie jamais très pondérée, fut le décor de mon épiphanie."
Julie Smith (Knitting and Sundries)
Apr 17, 2011 Julie Smith (Knitting and Sundries) rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, reviewed
This review first appeared on my blog:

In this rather convoluted tale, the narrator, Jose Altamarano, the illegitimate son of a married cynic and an idealistic Renaissance man, poor, anonymous, exiled and Colombian, tells the reader how his story was hijacked by the Great Novelist (caps from the novel) Joseph Conrad, and twisted into Nostromo.

Through various anecdotes, scraps of history, and personal recollections, we read about an unconventional life from
Apr 25, 2011 Dorothy rated it really liked it
I admit I have never read Joseph Conrad's Nostromo, but after reading this book, it is definitely going on my "to be read" list.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez, a Colombian writer, has taken the germ of an idea from Conrad, his mythical country of Costaguana, and recast it as Colombia/Panama. He creates a character, Jose' Altamirano, to narrate his convoluted and non-linear tale of nineteenth and early twentieth century Colombia and Panama, a time when the French attempted to construct a canal from the Atl
Jun 10, 2010 Darryl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The famous writer Joseph Conrad struggles to provide for his young family in early 20th century London, and is plagued with self-doubt about his ability to become a successful writer. The novel he is working on is set in South America, where he briefly captained a ship along the Colombian coast, but he finds himself unable to recall details about the country or its people, as he spent very little time there. He seeks the assistance of a well connected Colombian émigré, who puts Conrad in touch w ...more
Anthony Ferner
Apr 14, 2016 Anthony Ferner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A compelling novel about the tortured history of Colombia but also about the slipperiness of historical accounts, and indeed of fictional re-imaginings of real episodes.

The central character, José Altamirano, tells us his story as a bit-part player: an observer and unwilling participant in the dramatic events of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Colombia. The country’s bitter experience was one of seemingly endless cycles of civil war and violence.

The attention is focused on t
Apr 21, 2014 Berna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Türkçe adı costaguana'nın gizli tarihi everest yayınları çevirmen Süleyman Doğru
Romanın kahramanı Jose Altamirano , ünlü yazar Joseph Conrad'ın Kolombiya'ya silah satışı yapan gemilerde çalışmaya başlayıp kaptanlığa kadar yükseldiği yıllarda Kolombiya'da annesinin yanında başlayan yaşamına kilise karşıtı devrimci ve gazeteci babasını aramak için gittiği, o dönemde Kolombiya'nın bir parçası olan sonradan ayrılarak Panama adını alacak olan "kıstak"da devam eder.Birbiriyle her zaman paralel bir dön
Mar 22, 2013 Pat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to say that this book grew on me. I struggled to begin with and then really got in to it. The theme for my literature group for September is South American writing and this book was part of the list. It tells a very basic story of the beginnings of the Panama Canal and how the split between Panama and Colombia came about. There is a good bit of history involved but it is told in an amusing way. There is also a connection with Joseph Conrad, tenuous at first but explained fully towards the ...more
John Gurney
Jul 08, 2014 John Gurney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After author Juan Gabriel Vasquez wrote a biography of Joseph Conrad, he utilized his own Colombian upbringing to thread a historic novel "explaining" how Conrad wrote Nostromo. Costaguana is the fictional Colombian state that serves as the setting for that book.

This tale is third-person narrated and reads like a history. Protagonist José Altamirano's life reminds me of "Forrest Gump" because he crosses paths with most anyone who passed through the Panamanian isthmus at that time, be it Conrad,
Aug 16, 2011 Jason rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, novel
I was disappointed by this book and was tempted to quit reading it at almost every point. In retrospect, I guess I'm slightly glad I read it, but only slightly.

The first chapter promises a brilliant novel that intersperses the personal history of the fictional narrator, with the "true" history of end of nineteenth century Colombia and Panama and the "secret" history of Joseph Conrad and how he came to write Nostromo.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work. Too much of the style seems like trite p
Jan 24, 2016 Susan rated it liked it
A disappointment for me as I'd really appreciated an earlier book by this author. Subject is the building of the Panama Canal, Colombian history, Panama's eventual "independence " from Colombia- but also a story of love and heartbreak. And - to confuse things even more- the writing of Nostromo by Conrad. It's easy to get lost and somewhat bored along the way.
Pablo Martin
Aug 26, 2016 Pablo Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: latinoamericanos
En el último mes he tenido la suerte de departir con calma con dos escritoras de renombre, en la inevitable conversación con ellas sobre nuestras lecturas de cabecera yo cité a Juan Gabriel Vásquez y la que fue la mejor obra que leí el año pasado: Los amantes de Todos los Santos: ninguna de las dos la conocía, ni a la obra ni al autor. Bueno, pues eso, más tarde o más temprano (y me da que será más temprano), dejará de suceder, porque si en este momento pueden existir tres o cuatro grandes popes ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 04, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Review title: A history, a love story
Beginning in the last century, driven by French ideas and American dollars and the world's desires, the Panamanian isthmus was crossed first by railroad and then by the monstrous undertaking of an ocean to ocean canal.

At the beginning of this century, Joseph Conrad, a Polish writer self-exiled to London to write in a second language of English and imperialism, wrote of a fictional country called Costaguana.

Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vasquez weaves this
Michaela Dean
Jul 21, 2013 Michaela Dean rated it really liked it
The story starts with the events that lead his father, Miguel Altamirano, to Panama. The Chinese cadaver, Father Echavarria's actions, and the revolutions. Then the author describes the events that lead to Antonia de Narvaez and the birth and early life of Jose, the narrator. Then he goes on to describe the first glimpse we see of Conrad and how his actions lead to his meeting with Jose.Next, Jose finds Miguel in Colon and follows his life there. You watch as Miguel's obsession with the
May 19, 2013 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an amazing tale. This is one of the best books I have read in the last decade evoking "Cien Anos de Soledad" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in both power and scope.

This is the story of the founding of Panama as told through the eyes of Jose Altamirano, the son of a leading journalist who was forced to flee Columbia for political reasons. The conflict with Columbia coupled with the political machinations of the French and Americans and its famous Panama Canal during the turbulent years of the 18
May 20, 2012 Val rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-tour
This is the fictional life story of Jose Altamirano. A certain Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, better known as Joseph Conrad, 'stole' his life story for his novel Nostromo and now he is telling it the way it was. This is a re-imagining of the history behind Conrad's tale.
It is not necessary to read Nostromo to find The Secret History of Costaguana funny. It is funny, although there is also tragedy: the history of Columbia and Panama (province, canal and country) is not a peaceful one.
It is a r
Damián Vives
"Digámoslo de una vez: el hombre ha muerto. No, no es suficiente. Seré más preciso: ha muerto el Novelista (así, con mayúscula). Ya saben ustedes a quien me refiero. ¿No? Bien, lo intentaré de nuevo: ha muerto el Gran Novelista de la lengua inglesa. Ha muerto el Gran Novelista de la lengua inglesa, polaco de nacimiento y marinero antes que escritor. Ha muerto el Gran Novelista de la lengua inglesa, polaco de nacimiento y marinero antes que escritor, que pasó de suicida fracasado a clásico vivo, ...more
Apr 24, 2011 John rated it really liked it
As a sometimes visitor of Colombia, I thought this might be a good read to get some better insight into that great place and people. I was not so much looking for a novel (thanks to Cindysu for the lend). But I was pleasantly surprised to get both some history and a whale of a good read.
The nominal plot has the main character, Jose Altamirano, telling us of his convoluted connections to the chaotic life of Joseph Conrad, and his book Nostromo, which Jose says is really his story as told to Conr
Karen Michele
Jan 02, 2014 Karen Michele rated it really liked it
The Secret History of Costaguana was a fascinating book, both in story and structure. The story tells of the construction of the Panama Canal from the point of view of a Colombian struggling to survive civil war and revolution caused by the ownership debate over the canal. The premise makes it interesting, though: the protagonist’s story is told to Joseph Conrad and he believes it to be stolen by Conrad when he writes Nostromo. The fine writing and the weaving of this tale from that point of vie ...more
Oct 07, 2014 Caragh rated it it was amazing
I didn't actually read the translation (just the original in Spanish), but what can I say, I'm a die-hard fan of Juan Gabriel Vásquez! This is the third book of his that I've read, and I'm absolutely in love with the way he sets up his plots: namely, he takes an important historical event in Colombian history, and he sets it as the sort of "backdrop" for his characters to be moved by and independently of, that event. I'm also impressed by the way in which he is able to flow seamlessly between be ...more
Sep 25, 2015 Bart rated it really liked it
Did have not yet finished this book, but already feel compelled to praise it. Both the personal and the public events in this novel are interesting. The lack of dialogue is made up for by witty narrative not unlike Rushdie. Vasquez is a true storyteller. The introduction of journalist refraction is excellent and reflects on the author's writing as well, which I am sure he is conscious of and does on purpose. With this I refer mainly to the onesided relationship with Konrad, but who knows what th ...more
según Wikipedia:
"La novela es autentica, Vásquez tiene un estilo de escritura propio, plantea una posición firme en el relato demostrada a través de los comentarios y opiniones políticas sobre Latinoamérica y en especial sobre Colombia “en Colombia nadie admite que le pase nada a su maldito país"

No obstante, tal vez la idea de mezclar la historia de la construcción del Canal de Panamá y las guerras Colombianas de finales del siglo XIX con la biografía de Joseph Conrad no resulta ser tan "entrete
Jan 03, 2013 Robyn rated it really liked it
Loved this book and I accidentally (!) grabbed it at the library with another pile of books. It looked interesting when I unloaded it at home so I decided to give it a go...although if somebody had told me that reading a story with the backdrop of the Panama Canal construction would be fantastic, I would have chuckled. It was a great universe to get lost in as it takes place during the political upheaval in Columbia. Fab book, great narrator, hard to put down.
Sebastian Uribe
Mar 12, 2014 Sebastian Uribe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sin duda alguna, Juan Gabriel Vásquez es una de las grandes plumas actuales de Latinoamérica. Una historia que entremezcla la tragedia individual con la colectivas, con un trasfondo político e histórico convulsionado, como una triste canción que no se puede dejar de escuchar. "Historia secreta de Costaguana" es un homenaje a los autores decimónicos, pero más que nada, es una novela que en algunos años se recuerde como entrañable y muy entretenida a la vez que reflexiva.
Chris Wharton
Colombian exile in London narrates his experience of the years leading up to Panama’s secession, with U.S. connivance, from Colombia to Joseph Conrad, who then turns the story into his novel Nostromo (set in Conrad's fictional country of Costaguana). Some interesting stuff, especially on Conrad, gringo and European imperialists in the tropics, and building the Canal, but a bit of a letdown. Maybe try Nostromo.
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Estudió Derecho en su ciudad natal, en la Universidad del Rosario, y después de graduarse, partió a Francia, donde se instaló en París (1996-99). Allí, en La Sorbona se doctoró en Literatura Latinoamericana. Luego se mudó a un pequeño pueblo de la región de Ardenas, en Bélgica. Después de un año de vivir allí, Vásquez se instaló en Barcelona, donde reside hasta hoy.

Vásquez es autor de tres novelas
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“Like most of his countrymen, he was carried away by the sound of fine words, especially if uttered by himself.” 0 likes
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