Loosely based on a fictionalized account of the fascinating life story of the eccentric mathematician Alexander Grothendieck, Sketches of a Private Man, the dazzling debut by twenty-eightyear old Carlos Fonseca, presents us with an allegory for our over-informed age, as it explores the ever-conflictive relationship between European and Latin American history. Guided by itsplayful narrator, the reader is invited to witness, in an act of literary voyeurism that reminds us of the best Nabokov, the quotidian struggles that mark one day in the life of its esoteric protagonist – a man called the colonel who lives as a hermit in the Pyrenees – as he continues his work on a monumental, mysterious and yet poignantly comical encyclopedic project. Against this Borgesian background, a second story unfolds: that of the protagonist’s life story, a picaresque journey that traverses the political history of the 20th century. This narrative expedition – which takes us from the Russia of the October Revolution to the Mexico of the anarchic twenties, from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam, all the way back to France and from there to the Caribbean islands –becomes a tragicomic allegory for the political arch of the past century, a century that began addicted to political action and ended up hooked on big data.
In a manner reminiscent of Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Georges Perec’s Life: A Users Manual, the novel turns the reader into a biographical detectivein search for the answer to a simple question: why did this man, oneof the greatest geniuses of the century, a politically militant man himself, suddenly decide to abandon society? Why did he choose knowledge over political life? In the process of uncovering the secret behind the colonel’s monastic decision the reader encountersa series of unforgettable characters that sketch a transatlantic story of epic proportions: Chana Abramov, a woman obsessed with painting the same Mexican volcano a thousand times, Vladimir Vostokov, an anarchist in battle with technological modernity, and Maximiliano Cienfuegos, the protagonist’s Latin American counterpart, a simple man who will nonetheless become the symbol for the colonel’s as well as Europe’s restless political conscience. Together they all conspire to draw a great tapestry where Latin American history battles its way into universal history. Praised by Ricardo Piglia as an “intriguing and unforgettable verbal kaleidoscope,” Sketches of a Private Man is indeed a verbal tour de force that combines references to history, literature and philosophy, while maintaining a subtle comical touch that keeps the novel refreshingly human. The result is aninnovative exploration of the ways in whichhistory, information and politics are woven together behind the close curtains of our private lives. A singular yet subtle novel that, in its daring style, becomes an enjoyable read.
«This first book by Fonseca is an intriguing and unforgettable verbal Kaleidoscope» (Ricardo Piglia).
«Beware, reader, in these pages you will experience vertigo, anxiety and joy. You will become a ghostly presence in a Borgesian world, a camera obscura, where mathematics is a secret weapon, and memory the object of an archaeological pursuit. Loosely inspired by the eventful life of the French mathematician Alexander Grothendieck, Fonseca has created a gorgeous opera prima. Its narrator is obsessed with the colonel, an elderly man who one white winter afternoon in the Pyrenees chooses to sit down to write the story of his life. The narrator as stalker and spy addresses the reader in the first person plural, implicating us as part of the collective of snoops. The colonel is a little lazy and suspiciously aristocratic, he squanders time over insignificant things, likes sweets a little too much and takes naps a little too often. He conjures alchemical divas in his dreams, and is busy writing a collective autobiography of iconoclasts, “a megalomaniacal catalog of other people’s lives.” Colonel Lágrimas is playful and experimental in the tradition of writers like Calvino and Queneau. Fonseca employs the magic of perspective and shifting angles to summon a Cubist portrait of a very sleepy, insouciant old man who witnessed some of the great political events of the 20th century, from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam.“Take your naps,” our colonel exhorts, “. . . the moments of creation are different from those of work.” Deftly translated, the voice remains sedate, elegant, whispered even; we wouldn’t want to wake the colonel» (Valerie Miles, The New York Times Book Review).
«In this pretty puzzle, Fonseca tests the limits of fiction.… Fonseca’s narration mimics the meandering matrix of memory or an esoteric police procedural by Jorge Luis Borges.… For lovers of literary and Latin American postmodern fiction» (Sara Martinez, Booklist).
«Carlos Fonseca Suarez is the youngest author to appear on the renowned Spanish publisher Anagrama's list…. Written at any age, [Colonel Lágrimas] is a true feat of literary ventriloquism and cinematic control, tinged with a humor and melancholy inspired by the human condition. Whether we think of it as a game of masks or as a Cubist portrait, Fonseca's novel reads like an Oulipian puzzle where historical memory can play hide-and-seek…. The novel has a panoramic and worldly vision. There's something vast, all-embracing, and decidedly humanist about the project» (Chloe Aridjis, BOMB Magazine).
«Reading [Fonseca’s] works, one feels the presence of voices as disparate as those of W.G. Sebald, Alexander Von Humboldt, Simón Bolívar and Roberto Bolaño, among others. Fonseca is, without a doubt, a cosmopolitan offspring of cultural globalization as well as an attentive inheritor of both literary and cultural history…. Through an attentive and rigorous attention to detail, Fonseca is able to construct a collage where the mathematician’s life finds its ultimate meaning amidst a series of series of historical, metaphysical and poetic fragments that end up giving shape to a fascinating literary artifact that shines like an eclectic mosaic…. Colonel Lágrimas is a novel that showcases the craft of writing. Throughout its pages, it becomes apparent that its writerly resources are managed with a certain fluency and experimentation but, at the same time, with notable confidence» (Tomás Peters, Electric Literature).
«Though the novel nods mostly to García Márquez, Fonseca plays with the possibilities of hypertext raised by Julio Cortázar, and there are hints of Bolaño and perhaps even of younger contemporary Daniel Galera …. a lively, smart study of a decidedly offbeat character» (Kirkus Reviews).
«In the process of this game of coding and decoding, Fonseca deploys a torrent of vital and poetic ideas within a singular yet fascinating literary artifact…. [Colonel Lágrimas makes me think of] Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, W.G. Sebald, Borges, Juan Rulfo» (Gunter Silva, Words Without Borders).
«One of the characteristics of the best literature is its capacity for creative regeneration as it mutates into more modern and suggestive forms (...) Coronel Lágrimas, the first novel by Carlos Fonseca is a solid contribution to this process of modernization. It is the story of an aging colonel, living in self-imposed exile in an isolated Pyrenean farmhouse, a melancholic and decadent, pseudo-aristocratic mathematician, obsessed with data and a great lover of coffee. He has been involved for years on a project to place his own existence within the framework of convulsive historical moments: he, and his ascendants appear in the Bolshevik revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, Woodstock and Vietnam in a metaphorical journey that symbolizes the conscience of a XXth Century ruled by unreason. One thing that stands out in this story—inspired by the life of the mathematician Grothendieck—is the ambivalence between memory and forgetfulness, the conditioning presence of the past and the aesthetic configuration of History. A fine novel of imaginative scope.» (Jesús Ferrer, La Razón).
«The novel possesses an internal rhythm that imposes itself upon us like a psalm, with a studied musicality that sometimes ravishes, and at other times reveals itself as a weapon for a work that is both disturbing and absorbing» (Jesús Nieto Jurado, El Mundo, El Cultural).
«With an elegant and measured prose, and a surprising capacity to create lyrical images, Fonseca participates in the enduring need to tell stories to understand the world and also to better understand ourselves… What stood out strongly for me is the way in which the narrator shows us the world as if he were a camera man, pointing the readers´ eyes to the corners of his story… This “zoom-writing” displays from the beginning a solid style that gives the book a literary power, giving any of the tales that spring from this device constructed by Fonseca the potential to become a great story» (Miguel Ángel Hernández, La Opinión de Murcia).
«Let´s be honest: this is a real novel. Let´s be sincere: very few writers say so much in their first published novels, and with such style… A novel that is luminous in conception and powerful in execution, with five scenes that move from the morning to the late night. A treasure that will give us many years of pleasure, where reading Carlos Fonseca will become a healthy way of understanding what literature is for. Because to understand, it is necessary to read. Reading is believing» (Pedro Bosqued, Heraldo de Aragón).
«We have before us a novel written with the passion of intelligence» (J.A. Masoliver Ródenas, La Vanguardia-CulturaS).
«The youngest Latin America author in Anagrama´s prestigious catalogue» (Diego Zúñiga, Revista Qué pasa).
«After reading only a few pages, we already know that the colonel will become one of those unforgettable characters. And that Coronel Lágrimas, is the novel we have been anticipating for a long time… With a literary style that brings to mind the talent for detail and description of Pierre Michon in his novel Vidas minúsculas, following the literary lessons of Borges and his infinite catalogues adn the narrative strangeness of the unjustly forgotten Juan Rodolfo Wilcock, the exceptionally young Carlos Fonseca (San José, Costa Rica, 1978) is a gift from the literary gods. A writer who creates simulations and reflections with the skill of a sculptor of marble, an authentic writer, indomitable, whose intelligence comes from a torrential imagination. A beautiful writing, complex and with a sense of orality and narrative rhythm unusual in such a young writer. In the end, a book that won´t go unnoticed and which, in some ways, must be ephemeral» (Ricardo Baixeras, El Periódico).
«The writing—which, by the way, is very good—is the work ofCarlos Fonseca, who in this literary debut proves that he is already much more than another promising writer. A story about the power of stories» (Santiago Aizarna, El Diario Vasco).
«A voracious reader and a brilliant author» (El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico).
«A sublime novel» (Rafael Acevedo, Claridad, Puerto Rico)
«Coronel Lágrimas, the first novel by the Costa Rican writer Carlos Fonseca (1987) is, at the same time, a clear successand a complex and challenging read» (Sebastián Antezana, Página Siete, Bolivia).
«Coronel lágrimas is the perfect answer toEn busca de Klingsor» (Marta Aponte, El Roommate, Puerto Rico).
«In the end, what can a mathematical colonel do? Someone who writes half drunk, alone, melancholic, obsessed by his memories and by the contemplation of pictures that have frozen beautiful moments of his life. It seems that the only solution is to reduce life to numbers and symbols. Make the evasive, exact; the irresolute, concrete. Carlos Fonseca, that observer of life who knows how to tell this story of stories, has given us a book that is both radiant andmany-layered» (Guillermo Barquero, Sentencias Inútiles, Costa Rica).
«Coronel lágrimas is a grandiose literary debut, perhaps the one we have been waiting for. It is a novel with a highly structured plot, where daily miseries and grand historical events are developed with equalmathematical precision» (David Cruz, Literofilia, Costa Rica).
«I confess that I haven’t made such a great literary discovery in Spanish-language fiction since, some six or seven years ago, I had the pleasure of reading the Spanish writer Justo Navarro. I have just read the first novel by a youthful (only 28) Costa Rican and Puerto Rican writer, and I’m still— some days later—savouring it. And even more importantly, traversingthe thousand avenues it has opened in my imagination and my thoughts» (Enrique Zattara, El Ojo de la Cultura, España).
«Fonseca has structured his novel like a fascinating maze which is hard to stop exploring, even when we know we probably will never find the exit. Everyone involved—the colonel, the narrator, the readers—have in their possession all the pieces, but the puzzle is hard to complete as it metamorphoses constantly» (Marlon Aquino, El Buen Librero, Perú).
«The reading of Coronel Lágrimas is essential for many reasons: its daring structure, the intelligent control of multiple metafictional tropes and the way it highlights the role of the reader in the construction of meaning» (Lenin Pantoja, El Hablador, Perú).
«In this book, Fonseca flexes his considerable literary muscles, pointing his camera from various angles, using different perspectives of a man—the colonel—with a hot pulsating heart underneath his coat. A man who is romantic, melancholic, nostalgic, retreating into his memory as he yearns to go back to this fragmented life. To live again, see again and, afterwards, see even further» (Gunter Silva, Lima Gris, Perú).
«Five brief chapters and a series of guided summaries told by an omnipresent eye who tells us of the beauty of avoiding the obvious and the mundane. And, for reminding us of that, we should be grateful to the author» (Salvador Luis, Suburbano, Estados Unidos).
Carlos Fonseca was born in San José, Costa Rica, in 1987. He spent half of his childhood and adolescence in Puerto Rico. He obtained his doctorate in Latin American literature from Princeton University. He has collaborated with literary magazines like Bazar Americano, Buensalvaje and Otra Parte, among others. He is a founding member of the critical review The Roommate. He currently lives in London. In December 2016 he was elected among the best twenty Latin American writers of the 80s at the Guadalajara Book Fair in Mexico and in May 2017 he was included in the Bogota39 list of the best 39 Latin American writers under 40 organized by the Hay Festival every 10 years,