A nervous disposition

La historia de Horacio is a delightful foray into the eccentric world of an acutely sensitive antique dealer in the Colombia of the 1960s


La historia de Horacio
Tomás González
2000, Norma, Colombia
155 pages

Reviewed by Eugene Carey

TOMÁS GONZÁLEZ reportedly developed the idea for La Historia de Horacio after watching a documentary about a large, eccentric family in Connecticut. One of the multitude of brothers was of an extremely nervous disposition, such that any excitement – good or bad, small or large – forced him to sit down and rest or even to sleep. This reminded González of his uncle Jorge, whose delicate nerves killed him at a young age, and so was born the idea for this novel.

La Historia de Horacio tells the story of an antique dealer so sensitive to the beauty and the horror of his world that his frayed nerves end up taking him to the grave. It allows González to recreate the atmosphere of his own family home in the 1960s in Envigado, south of Medellín, where his father and brothers lived in neighbouring country homes and formed their own small universe of mutual support. The theme of such a parallel universe detached from the brutal realities of Colombian life was developed by González in a later novel Los caballitos del diablo (2003), and it would seem that Horacio’s condition might well serve as a counterpoint to the sheer insensitivity that surviving in war-torn Colombia can necessitate. Horacio’s enemy is his daily reality.

Search for marital calm

However, the disruptions to Horacio’s delicate world are not caused by the endemic political violence of the era or region, although these are obliquely referred to, but are related to the triumphs and traumas of one sensitive man trying, but failing, to find a state of marital calm in a household of energetic and spirited children that is always brimming with other relations and visitors. He is forever stumbling from aesthetic rumination to philosophical conundrum as he tries to cope with the travails of daily life.

Margarita, Horacio’s wife, has her feet firmly planted on the ground and, although she wants to carry some of his nervous load, she finds herself unable to help him beyond a certain point busy as she is coping with their voluminous family. Elías, Horacio’s brother, is based on the author’s uncle Fernando González, a character as philosophically detached from his world as Horacio is submerged in it.

The book is replete with the uniquely colourful expletives of Antioquia and Jerónimo, Horacio’s adolescent son and a youth with an astoundingly coarse tongue, is a mechanism of disseminating this exquisitely humorous way with words that González is so steeped in and finds so fascinating.

The resulting atmosphere that the author evokes is both moving and amusing. La Historia de Horacio is a delightful foray into a Colombian way of life that is probably no more, but has been lovingly recreated by a writer for whom this work was clearly a labour of love.

Eugene Carey is a journalist