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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Santiago Gamboa

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To purchase Necropolis

Title: Necropolis
Author: Santiago Gamboa
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 466 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Necropolis - US
Necrópolis - US (Spanish)
Necropolis - UK
Necropolis - Canada
Necropolis - India
Nécropolis 1209 - France
Necrópolis - España
  • Spanish title: Necrópolis
  • Translated by Howard Curtis

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Our Assessment:

B : very entertaining storytelling, but a bit unwieldy as a novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly A 2/7/2012 .
Télérama . 1/1/2012 Christine Ferniot

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Colombian-born Gamboa's work calls to mind Roberto Bolaño in its masterful suspense, complex literary references, and frank depiction of violence, sex, and drugs, but this novel stands on its own as a masterwork of storytelling." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Hommage au Décaméron de Boccace, Nécropolis 1209 est un roman sur le pouvoir de la littérature, une épopée fantas­que, un magnifique voyage -- juste avant la fin du monde." - Christine Ferniot, Télérama

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Necropolis is narrated by a Colombian writer who has lived in Europe for more than twenty years -- in Rome, as the novel opens. He's been ill and hasn't written anything for years, but is a reasonably successful novelist, and his account begins with his receiving an invitation to participate in an International Conference on Biography and Memory in Jerusalem. He thinks there's probably a mistake -- he's a fiction-writer, after all -- but they really do want him, and he certainly has no objections, so he attends the not-quite-usual international literary gathering.
       Among the material he receives from the organizers are the biographies of the other delegates who will be in attendance, and he copies some of these out in his notebook -- a quick, efficient way of introducing the main characters readers will encounter later in the novel. Almost immediately -- thirty pages in, and before the narrator has even set out for Jerusalem -- the narrative switches to one of the delegates' presentations, an autobiographical account that will stretch out over three chapters in all. Necropolis includes several of these presentations by the other delegates, some autobiographical, some about others; somewhat oddly, there is only a limited effort to integrate them even merely chronologically in the larger narrative describing the conference and what happens at and around it. At fifty or sixty pages apiece, these individual accounts are also fully-formed narratives in their own right -- long stories, or practically novellas.
       The first such story that is told, and the only one not presented in a single sitting (but rather divided into three, with alternating chapters returning to the narrator's account of going to the conference), is that of José Maturana. He describes how he met the charismatic Reverend Walter de la Salle in prison, and came under his sway, joining him once he got out prison and watching as Walter's Church-empire grew and grew. More or less a part of Walter's inner circle, Maturana didn't always feel comfortable with what Walter was doing, but didn't break away; he also helped Walter write an immensely successful book. Soon after its publication, however, Walter's empire came crashing down; Maturana came out of that fine, but Walter disappeared.
       The significance of Maturana's account comes from the fact that, after giving his presentation, he winds up dead -- it's made to look like a suicide, but the narrator is convinced that he was murdered. Together with a journalist, he looks into the case and tries to get to the bottom of what happened.
       Another Colombian delegate, Moisés Kaplan tells the narrator about his own family difficulties in Colombia, but his presentation is not autobiographical. Instead, he tells the story of another Colombian man who was a victim of the battling local forces -- the paramilitary and FARC -- and how he eventually managed to exact his revenge. Another delegate recounts the story of two chess players, one from Poland and one from Sweden, who both never quite made it into the top flight of international chess -- both content with their love of the game, rather than trying to compete at the highest level. Both also wind up living in Israel. Finally, a very successful Italian porn star recounts her life-story.
       There is some overlap among the stories (and also what is happening at the conference), but mainly only at the periphery; shared elements also include a general sense of satisfaction that the protagonists seem to feel, a focus on a small, comfortable, and just life/style -- as well as no reason to worry about money, as they either more or less luck into a fortune (or at least more than enough to live comfortably off of), and/or earn a great deal. Meanwhile, the conference gets literally shaken up by the constant bombs going off in a Jerusalem that is increasingly at war, the situation getting more and more unsettled. The narrator, preoccupied with trying to figure out why Maturana is dead, slowly finds all the pieces coming together -- leading also to the unusual dénouement, as his story, too, becomes one of finding a certain form of quiet contentment, far off the beaten path (while the world goes to hell in a handbasket ...).
       The self-contained stories Gamboa offers -- the presentations by the delegates -- are all good and well-told stories -- a bit far-fetched, sometimes a bit rough-and-tumble, but riveting reading. The narrator, meanwhile, is an appealing enough literary type, and Gamboa's literary-name-dropping -- from a brief Horacio Castellanos Moya-cameo to the selection of books the narrator wants to bring with him to Jerusalem -- offers enough to consistently tickle the fancy of literature lovers. But it's an oddly formed novel, the stand-alone stories for the most part standing too much alone, thrown at the reader without preamble (or, in some cases, even at the same time as they appear in the central narrative, making for a confusing chronology).
       There's lots of appeal to all this sprawl, but it makes it difficult to find a proper focus. Maturana's narrative is central enough to the other goings-on, but the other three self-contained stories aren't as obviously part of the larger story, and it makes for a lot of distraction: the entire central section of the novel, over 160 pages, shifts attention away from the conference (and murder), for example -- a very long stretch.
       A fine, meandering novel, Gamboa bubbles over just a bit too much with storytelling abandon -- confident in shaking tales out of his sleeve, a bit less (and more tightly focused storytelling) likely would have been more here. Still, most everything of what's found here is good fun (though note quite a few of these stories do include the very rough and raw in terms of sex, drug-use, and violence), and it's an enjoyable longer read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 June 2012

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Necropolis: Reviews: Other books by Santiago Gamboa under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Colombian author Santiago Gamboa was born in 1965.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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