The characters in Songs for the Flames are men and women touched by violence—sometimes directly, sometimes only in passing—but whose lives are changed forever, consumed by fire and by unexpected encounters and unyielding forces. A photographer becomes obsessed with the traumatic past that an elegant woman, a fellow guest staying at a countryside ranch, would rather leave behind. A military reunion forces a soldier to confront a troubling history, both personal and on a larger scale. The search for a book leads a writer to the story of why a woman is buried next to a graveyard, rather than in it—and the account of her journey from France to Colombia as a child orphan.
...haunting and beautiful ... if you appreciate the intelligence and ambiguities of the genre’s best practitioners, you’ll have some affinity for what Vasquez is up to here ... his notion of a literature steeped in history, one that does not so much blur as obviate the line between fiction and nonfiction, and between scholarship and imagination, may owe more to Borges than anyone else ... Songs for the Flames is a book about war and imperialism, which in Vasquez’s view never really end, but rather mutate ... a book about secrets and lies, which is to say speech acts: their tremendous power, but also the limits of that power and the wretched ecstasy of revelation.
Prodigious author, journalist, and translator Vásquez (Reputations, 2016), one of South America’s most important writers, is once again deftly translated by award-winning Canadian McLean ... Disturbing yet necessary, Vásquez’s fiction becomes enduring testimony.
Vásquez is concerned with his home country’s history, but the shorter form gives his prose a welcome tightness; each story (via McLean’s translation) is crisp and conversational. Still, he can infuse historical breadth to the short form ... A bracing set of stories about smaller traumas embedded among a country’s larger crises.