“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.” —Valerie Miles, The New York Times Book Review
Holed away in a cabin in the Pyrenees, the world-famous and enigmatic mathematician Alexander Grothendieck is working furiously on a final project. But what exactly is this monumental, mysterious undertaking? Why did this man, one of the greatest geniuses of the century, a politically militant man himself, suddenly decide to abandon politics and society altogether? As the reader pursues the answer to these questions, two layered narratives emerge. One is a series of unforgettable characters that have transfixed the mathematician’s imagination: 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, a simple man who will nonetheless become the symbol for the Colonel’s as well as Europe’s restless political conscience. The other is the protagonist’s life story: a picaresque journey that traverses the 20th century: from the Russia of the October Revolution to the Mexico of the anarchic 1920s, from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam, all the way back to France and from there to the Caribbean islands. Out of this Borgesian web emerges a tragicomic allegory for the political arch of the past century, one that began addicted to political action and ended up hooked on big data.
Loosely based on the fascinating life story of the eccentric mathematician Alexander Grothendieck, Colonel Lágrimas is a world-spanning tour de force of history, politics, literature, mathematics, and philosophy that wears its learning lightly, forming an appealingly human story of the forces that have created the modern world.
Carlos Fonseca Suárez was born in Costa Rica in 1987 and grew up in Puerto Rico. His work has appeared in publications including The Guardian, BOMB, The White Review and Asymptote. He currently teaches at the University of Cambridge and lives in London.
“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 . . . 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 . . . 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
“So much of the writing in Carlos Fonseca Suárez’s Colonel Lágrimas was just gorgeous, and Megan McDowell’s translation from the original Spanish managed to keep the beautiful complexity of the language intact.”
—Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews, 2016 Reviewer’s Choice
"An intriguing and unforgettable verbal kaleidoscope."
—Ricardo Piglia, author of Target in the Night and Artificial Respiration
“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
“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
“Reading [Fonseca’s] work, 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.”
“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
“Colonel Lágrimas is a clever book, slightly claustrophobic in its setting, but spanning the globe through its focus on the old man’s memories…. It’s beautifully written, with more good work here by the excellent McDowell…. [The tedium of the Colonel’s life,] in Fonseca’s hands, far from being something to grieve, becomes a celebration of a life less ordinary.”