Saturday, February 27, 2016

Colombian Idyll

Sometimes it takes a while. Respected Colombian writer Tomás González published his first novel, In the Beginning Was the Sea, over thirty years ago, but it has only recently been translated into English. Like many first novels it is autobiographical, but it does not seem like the early attempt of a young writer.

Elena and J. are a young couple who have left their life as intellectual dilettantes in Medellín for a life of simplicity and sustainable agriculture on the coast of Colombia. Or at least that is their idealized vision. It's the 70's, and their hippy naivete allows them to believe that they are perfectly suited for this endeavor. But their backgrounds of urban privilege have left them totally unable to deal with real life. They alienate the locals, their farming attempts fail, and the omniscient narrator discloses early in the novel that J. will not survive. Their disintegration is uncomfortable to watch, but I couldn't look away.

The story is based on the real life tragedy of González's older brother.  But their is no trace of filial empathy in the narrative. The prose is spare and straightforward but powerful, whether describing the beauty of surroundings or the poignant intricacies of a marriage breaking down. I hope this translation will allow González to gain greater literary attention.