Juan Gabriel Vásquez was named last year as one of the Bogotá 39, the most important thirty-nine Latin American writers under the age of thirty-nine. It is a measure of how far Latin American literature has changed in recent years that there is only one overtly magical-realist image in his book, which is when the pigeons in Plaza de Bolivar in Bogotá all start dying and falling out of the sky at once. Even this freakish phenomenon has an entirely rational explanation: it transpires that the corn used to feed the birds had been poisoned ‘without anyone knowing why or without those responsible ever being found, or even pursued’.
Human behaviour is as enigmatic as a cloudburst of pigeons, and such is the theme of this beguiling novel. Why do lovers, husbands, wives, friends betray each other? What possesses us to turn on our kith and kin?
The title refers to the introduction of blacklists of German immigrants in Colombia during the Second World War. Often entirely innocent people were denounced for harbouring Nazi sympathies, and nobody knew why or by whom they had been denounced. The atmosphere was increasingly noxious; treachery was commonplace. It is a