See the World with #BrazosBest: Santiago Gamboa’s NIGHT PRAYERS

Article by staff

The Chatters: Mark Haber (Floor Manager), Annalia Linnan (Bookseller), Keaton Patterson (Buyer)
The Plot: A young Colombian student is arrested for drug trafficking in Thailand, thus sets off a series of memories of youth, literature, innocence and guilt.

Mark: I was excited to read this book when I saw it was coming out because I’d read NECROPOLIS, Gamboa’s first book in English, and it blew me away. He’s really good at having stories within stories within stories, and I like his style of writing. It’s very good, accessible, conversational—and worldly! He kind of travels the globe. There’s still this Colombian identity. The main author in NECROPOLIS is a Colombian writer. But there’s still this kind of dislocation—the whole novel takes place in a hotel in Israel, and there’s a murder, and there’s different stories, and it’s fantastic. And I was very happy that NIGHT PRAYERS exceeded my expectations; it’s as good as NECROPOLIS.

Keaton: This work as well is a very international novel. It goes all over the place. We’ve got Thailand, Colombia…where else?

Mark: They end up going really briefly to spend a day in Tehran, and…did you mention Tokyo?

Keaton: That was on his plane trip…not to give plot points away!

Mark: Right, not to give anything away! But it’s a book, in essence, about a brother and a sister who kind of grow up lower middle class in the 80s in Bogota, Colombia.

Keaton: I think you’re right in calling Gamboa’s writing style conversational. Really just kind of sucks you in. I guess a lot of the story is written in the form of conversation: one person giving a kind of deposition to somebody else, so you’re literally getting a conversation.

Annalia: Yeah, I love this book. The part that drew me in was the brother/sister relationship, because anything that studies that is always fascinating to me. But there’s so much else going on here too, with, like, drugs and violence. I think all three of us, even though we champion the same book sometimes, we all have such different taste, so the fact that this speaks to all of us says a lot about this book.

Mark: I agree. And other things—not to give it away—but you end up in the world of high end escorts, and also the things people have to do to escape to a better life. This is all about people growing up, not liking where they are, and trying to find a better life.

Keaton: Yeah, I’ve noticed that it seems like both main narrators—really two narrators throughout the story—they both don’t care for where they live. They don’t want to live in Colombia, and they take off as soon as they can. One becomes a diplomat who lives overseas…oh, New Delhi, that’s another place it takes place!

Mark: New Delhi, right!

Keaton: And then the character of the younger boy who is going on this ill-fated trip. But it’s also good cool little references to the graffiti scene, and the easter eggs of literary references and philosophical references.

Mark: Yeah, and I think, as the book progresses, there’s cool references to music, to other authors. It’s not a metafictional book at all, however he starts to reference contemporaries. The main character goes to a literary festival in Tokyo and runs into contemporary authors. Another thing I love about writers and books like this is championing them because they slip under the radar. I bought NECROPOLIS on a whim and loved it, and it’s great when you can share that love and go, “This is something people should read,” and you watch it click with them.

Keaton: Yeah, it’s nice finding authors you don’t know much about and then becoming big fans. I remember when we first had NECROPOLIS, we’d have one, maybe two at a time. Now, with NIGHT PRAYERS, we have a dozen copies at a time. The demand for this book is growing as we share our love of this book with customers. It’s resonating with people. It’s a topnotch work of literature.

Annalia: It’s also been cool watching people pick up NECROPOLIS now that they’ve read NIGHT PRAYERS. We’re selling the copies we’d never sold before.

Keaton: Let me ask you, Mark. You are the connoisseur of Latin American fiction at Brazos: what is it about Gamboa that you think defines him, or sets him apart?

Mark: I love writers that are accessible and conversational. My favorite writers are smart and literary, but there’s that voice of the author, like they’re sitting right next to you telling you things. I like writing like that, where there’s something immediate about it. I think he falls in that tradition. I also think he has a complex experience and view of the world. He studied Cuban lit at the Sorbonne. He’s been around the world.

Keaton: For all the conversational tone, it’s a dense, complex novel, with a lot of points. And there’s always that sinister backdrop behind things. Things can get a lot worse really quickly I love the part where the main character is arrested in Thailand for drug trafficking. The prosecutor’s explanation of why they take it so personally…there’s echoes of colonialism, but Thailand was never colonized…but there’s ways of looking at different parts of the world. Maybe it’s an Orientalism thing? There are these chapters where Gamboa’s talking about Thailand, how fun it is, how much trouble you can get into…

Mark: And those chapters are kind of experimental, kind of cool.

Keaton: Yeah, but then you get the perspective of the people who live in the “world’s playground,” and you see how they get taken advantage of and how they actually feel behind this world of smiles. It reflects back to Colombians too, how they see themselves through the eyes of the Anglo-Western world.

Mark: I don’t want to say where it ends up going, but there really are some shocks in this book, some twists and turns. The young man is going to find his sister, and the twists and turns about where is she, what has she been doing…and when she goes away, there really is this thing—not to give anything away—but the brother and the parents are like, “She’s disappeared, she’s one of the disappeared…” and the father, who’s never been political, starts to March in the streets. But that’s how cynical they are, that when a family member gets taken, automatically they go, “Oh, she was just taken.”

Annalia: Do you think this is a critique of Colombia?

Mark: I don’t think the entire book is, but I think there are critiques of Colombia in it, absolutely. I don’t think that’s the goal of the book, but I think that’s in the book. I think there’s critiques of the class system, of the government.

Annalia: I think something that’s interesting about Gamboa is that so many of the Latin American authors I’ve read, everything is based in the country they’re from, and this is completely different from that.

Mark: Exactly. And there’s more Colombia in this than in NECROPOLIS, where NECROPOLIS is a Colombian in a hotel in Jerusalem. So there’s always those hints of Colombia…but this one has a lot more, because there’s these huge flashbacks of growing up in Bogota, when he first began to do graffiti, and going down these streets and avenues that Gamboa names. But yeah, that’s a great point Annalia. So we’re just excited to share this with everyone.

Keaton: So yeah, NIGHT PRAYERS, but Santiago Gamboa. Our March #BrazosBest.

Mark: May!

Annalia: May #BrazosBest!

Keaton: [Laughs] Oh yeah! Well, we’ll edit that.

Night Prayers Cover Image
By Santiago Gamboa, Howard Curtis (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781609453114
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Europa Editions - March 1st, 2016

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