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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Many questions of Juan Gabriel Vasquez's novel Reputations

Juan Gabriel Vasquez is holding my interest and attention throughout his 2013 novel, Reputations, about a political cartoonist for a Bogota liberal newspaper who is honored late in his career and, at the same time, forced to look back on a troubling incident. As we learn in section 2 (of 3), years back when he was just separated from his wife and was caring for his 7-year-old daughter (Beatriz) on the weekend, he held a house-warming party at which his daughter and her friend, who'd been left in his care for the day for a "play date" made a game of finishing off the near-empty glasses of liquor and both got drunk and passed out; to make things more weird and complicated, a right-wing politician, who'd showed up at the party uninvited to cravenly ask the cartoonist (Mallarino) to stop running unflattering caricatures of him, gets caught in the act of molesting the daughter's friend. This leads Mallarino to run a horrendously degrading cartoon the next day, outing the politician as a pedophile. Most will not be surprised (spoiler, maybe) that the pol kills himself in shame. OK, I'm gripped by this story, and by JGV's smart and thoughtful narrative style, but there are some real oddities, and I can't tell whether these may be cultural differences between the U.S. and Colombia, or horrible gaffes in the behavior of this character, or flaws in JGV's own thinking about the propriety of both journalism, parental responsibility, and criminal malfeasance. First, is it even conceivable that a mom would put her young child in the custody of a single guy who's about to hold a huge party w/ lots of free-flowing booze? Second, if this did happen, would the dad really make no attempt to supervise two 7-year-old children? Third, if the kids did indulge in extensive drinking (a little odd for kids that young but possible) and passed out, would the dad really just call a dr. for advice (the doc tells him to give them sugar water every 20 minutes - wouldn't he recommend an immediate visit to the ER?). Fourth, would the family of the girl really not make much of a fuss, just basically transfer her to another school? Fifth, based on supposition that the politician molested the girl, wouldn't the likely reaction be notification of police or social services? Sixth, can you imagine (not in the U.S. anyway) a cartoon outing the politician as a child molester absent any kind of charges or even investigations? My answer to all of the above would be, "no," but again maybe we're looking at a socio-political difference. Would be interested in the reaction to this novel in Colombia; all that said, JGV is holding my interest and I will read the novel through to the finish - got to know what happens to these people!

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