Lead Review

  • Book: The Shape of the Ruins
  • Location: Colombia
  • Author: Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Review Author: tripfiction



A blend of autobiography, historical narrative and criminal investigation, The Shape of the Ruins is a gripping tale of intrigue and conspiracy set in Colombia, of how the author finds himself lured into investigating the assassination of one of its leaders. With tremendous courage, Vásquez unflinchingly portrays the highest iniquities of State and Church in a nation riven by corruption.

Mindful of the broader context, the author is at pains to reel in the non-Colombian reader with references to the assassination in 1963 of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, before turning to domestic assassinations of key political leaders who dared to speak out against a deeply conservative system. In each instance, the matter of a second or third assassin is raised.

The story settles into a rhythm, one assassination leading back to another, arriving over mid-way in at the heart of the story and one young lawyer’s search for the truth. What unfolds is a complex series of cover ups as the overarching questions, ones that plague all conspiracy theorists the world over—Who is pulling the strings? Who paid the hitman? –are explored.

The Shape of the Ruins is a literary feast that brings the social fabric of Colombia past and present alive in all of its magnificent and inglorious detail. The reader is taken down the streets of Bogotá, and shown various sites of interest, landmarks on a dark trail. Vásquez does not provide the reader with vivid descriptions of various sites of interest, rather, he evokes a sense of place, an atmosphere, one that pervades the whole novel.

Seamlessly crafted, the narrative clings to the palate like cream. The fortunate reader will have their copy in hand on a flight to Colombia, prepared to luxuriate in a most intriguing and disturbing education. The story is long and there is much to take in. The Shape of the Ruins is travel fiction par excellence, a story to lose yourself in. Literary fiction at its best.

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