The East-West Burlesque of Santiago Gamboa

“What is the actual situation of a secondary writer, if not on a single, huge drain?” When Santiago Gamboa, on the first page of his most recent novel with Gombrowicz’s voice, scoffs at the inferior writers, it is almost self-evident that he himself is not one of those pitiful creatures of the literary rearguard. For, as Gamboa quotes from “Ferdydurke”, the humiliation of the bad writer is threefold: through the public, through reality, and above all through art itself, “in which he sought refuge, but despised his inability and inadequacy “.

In fact, the young successful author from Colombia had little reason to complain about such abductions. Since his literary debut, he has become Bogotá’s first city-wide metropolitan known across the country’s borders.emblematic representative of a rebellious “Generation McOndo” who escaped from the cult site of “Magic Realism”: the village of Macondo from the novels of the all-shades García Márquez. Also with his third published in German novel “The Blender” Gamboa dwells on the neon-lit paths of the big city literature. Of course, under the pen of the now mature novelist, this genre has a multi-colored nuance. Gamboa transfers the scene of his book from the urban jungle of Bogotá to that of post-socialist Beijing. He strives to prove his mastery in all genres, cultures and traditions at the same time. 

The heroes of the novel are scrambled out of various facets of globalized promiscuity: the literary scholar Nelson Chouchén Otálora, Peruvian in the professorial services of an over-funded North American university;Serafín Suárez Salcedo, frustrated Colombian radio journalist in French public services; and the equally foamy and far-east addicted sinologist dr. Gisbert Klauss from the University of Hamburg, who has never left his home office. These three unequal figures converge in the booming megalopolis of the Far East, albeit not to chase after the recent economic summits of the Middle Kingdom, but to an esoteric manuscript. “Wide transparencies of the air” is the name of the typeface which tragically combines the fates of the three continents of Asia, Europe and America. Its author is Wang Mian, a forgotten Chinese classic. His handwriting, lost for a hundred years, is at the same time the sacred code of the anti-Western “sect of the strong fist”, which in 1900 initiated the Boxer Rebellion. 

From such disparate elements, the novel weaves a web of spying angles, confusion and paranoia, which Graham Greene, Gamboa’s professed role model, did all honor. Agents reluctant and yet delighted at their new surprise role, the title heroes stumble between alcoholism and anachronism through luxury hotels, conspiratorial bookstores and warehouses, accompanied by Catholic-Stalinist monks, Russian prostitutes and participants in an international Proctologists’ Congress: three “Blender” rummaging about Wang Mian’s text finally hoped for the big coup that was denied them in the past life. For each of them is one of those abusive writers’ passions mentioned above, who are reluctant to admit their failure. Even if the narrator, in true Nathanian wisdom, succeeds in giving each of the three dazzling heroes the desired good in equivalent form, there remains nothing more than what the title promised: the vast transparencies of an air, which, though circulated several times by three impostors, does not want to leave behind any solid substance. 

With all the tricks and pitfalls of the literary craft, the novelist seeks to spin his readers and protagonists into his network. But after he had succeeded with a dreamlike certainty in his last novel “The happy life of the young Esteban” to move quite calmly between the cities of Bogotá, Rome and Paris – certainly not least because these cities landmarks of his own apprenticeship as a writer At times, in the West-Eastern scenario of his Beijing, he sometimes seems to get tangled up in the pitfalls he has designed. Gamboa’s novel accurately reflects the misery of today’s virtual world citizens, who have been everywhere yet are nowhere at home: the constant odium of half-knowledge. Professor Klauss, born in a “nest called Bielefeld”, continues to drink his King Pilsener all over the world and muses with embassy officials about persistent Franco-German tensions despite all Maastricht contracts. The Cuban proctologist Omaira, projection surface of erotic fantasies of the title heroes, comes from a “province of Oriente”, which has not been found on any map for half a century, and moans in asteroid manner during intercourse: “By Ochún and Yemayá” – quite the opposite to Americanized Puerto Rican student whimpering before orgasm with Professor Chouchén Otálora: “Dad, put your load on me.” 

All these are deliberately used clichés, collected from novels, films and travel guides. In the absence of an essence that goes beyond irony, however, they do not lose their prowess in their exaggerated use of the comic.Therefore, Gamboa is bad at his mockery of the bad writers. After the simple stylistic certainty of his last novels, he, in his new self-confidence as sovereign master of the set pieces, sometimes makes honest effort to compete with his “dazzlers”: as a new contender for a place in the Round Table of the Knights of the High Stack.


Santiago Gamboa: “The Blender”. Novel. Translated from Colombian Spanish

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