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The Secret History of Costaguana

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  242 ratings  ·  42 reviews
"One of the most original new voices of Latin American literature." -- Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
"Unlike anything written by his Latin American contemporaries" ("The Financial Times") "The Informers" secured Juan Gabriel Vasquez's place as one of the most original and exuberantly talented novelist working today. Now he returns with an in
ebook, 304 pages
Published June 1st 2011 by Riverhead Books (first published 2007)
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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
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
Jose Luis
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.
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
John Gurney
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,
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.
Joseph Conrad wrote "Nostromo" in 1904. A voyage down the coast of Columbia (Conrad would call the Republic Costaguana) provided the material for the novel and the first mate the model for the hero, Nostromo.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote THE SECRET HISTORY OF COSTAGUANA more than 100 years later. He has fused the history of the Panama Canal and Panamanian independence with an imagined hero of Conrad's novel, Jose Altamirano. Conrad asked for Jose's help, a
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
Julie Smith (Knitting and Sundries)
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
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
Conrad Johnson
Grow your tree of falsehood from a small grain of truth. Do not follow those who lie in contempt of reality. Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself, so the weary travelers may find repose. --Czeslaw Milosz, Polish Nobel Laureate

Vásquez's micro-existential and momentary fictional audience within this novel, Joseph Conrad, needs redemption for his evil doppelgänger's distortion of Colombia/Costaguana's history as told in his popular work, Nostromo. At least that's what Jose Altámi
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
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
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
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
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
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
Michaela Dean
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
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
Sebastian Uribe
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.
Helena Cochrane
I loved every minute of this historical novel. Vasquez is highly adept at weaving the narrator's story with the history of the creation of Panamá. His narrator is such a believably flawed character, and his view of Colombia and Panama and their separation is told in a personal, visceral way that begs the reader's sympathy for people caught in the crossfire of Historical Happenings.
Karen Michele
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
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
Nice insights into Panamas history, but from time to time difficult to follow
Alejandro Salgado B.
Excellent overview of the history of Colombia in the 19th century.
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.
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.
I struggled with this one.

There is no doubt the writing was full of imagery and characters – perhaps too many characters. The first two parts of the book became quite tedious.

The third part was were the story came together and the stories of the life of the main character, his meeting with Joseph Conrad, the formation of Panama and the impact of the various rebellions made sense.
This novel took me the first 100 pages to really enter but once I was in I really enjoyed it. Very interesting and entertaining narrative voice and style. Often humorous and insightful. You can really tell Gabriel Vasquez put years of research into writing this piece. I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read Conrad's Nostromo of which the book plays off of.
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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
More about Juan Gabriel Vásquez...
The Sound of Things Falling The Informers Las reputaciones El arte de la distorsión Los amantes de Todos los Santos

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