Jaime Manrique was born out of wedlock in the northern Colombian city of Barranquilla in 1949, not publicly acknowledged by his father (though left part of his father’s estate). His mother took him with her to Florida in 1967 and he earned a BA at the University of South Florida in 1972. Manrique was accepted into Manuel Puig’s fiction workshop at Columbia University in 1977, and the next year published the novella El Cadáver de Papá (Father’s Corpse), which. According to Linda Rapp (GLBTQ.com), , became a best-seller in Colombia, but also met with outrage, since it dealt with a young man who murdered his wealthy, conservative father and later, dressed as a woman, attempted to seduce his father-in-law.”
I recognize that as a version of the start of Colombian Gold, which was also a best-seller in Colombia when it was published in 1983 in Spanish. At its start, Santiago Villalba, its protagonist has returned to Colombia (to the home of his father, a place he has never before been) because his father is dying. Impatient for the death to finish, Santiago smothers his progenitor with a pillow.
He leaves his wife at his father’s home, dons clothes of his dead half-sister Lucia (the daughter of his father’s wife and someone with whom Santiago had had a sexual relationship) to go to an end-of-Carnivale party, where his father-in-law, Alvaro, wants to take what he perceives as a pretty young woman out on the grounds to fuck. After Alvaro knocks himself out in a collision with a palm tree, Santiago rapes and leaves him with his pants down.
There are more lurid (cartoonish) happenings in a country in which old money (Spanish families descended from the conquistadors) is supported by the military (their class supplying the generals), not least in a conflict over growing and exporting marijuana (the gold of the title, though there are also precolonial gold ornaments collected by Santiago’s childhood friend, whose father is now president of the country). Santiago and Mario and Mario’swife, Caridad, snort a lot of cocaine, but cocaine was not yet the dominating business of Colombia. There is repression of dissidents, a media-savvy rebel group, torture of political prisoners, many shootings, and the theft of Mario’s prosthetic leg ahead in a dizzying thriller plot swirling around the naïve prodigal son (and sole heir), who becomes the propaganda minister, mouthing on tv what he is told to say.
Teresa Ortega called Twilight at the Equator (1997) “a rage against the patriarchal, death-dealing world the author and his protagonist find themselves in.” This certainly applies to Manrique’s earlier (in Spanish but third in publication in English in 1998) novel. Though Colombian Gold is more a black comedy than a bang-bang thriller, it is a page-turner. (It helps that the font is large!) In a cover blurb Pauline Kael likened it to “a film noir running wild.” That seems right to me. And is a “terse literary object,” as Manuel Puig proclaimed it on the back cover (though I can think of many more laudatory epitomizations of a book).
In contrast, William S. Burroughs praised it as being “studded with unforgettable characterizations,” which it is not (what did Burroughs know about building characters?) Even Santiago is not a very developed character, and the rest of the dramatis personae are cartoon figures.
Although I thought that Twilight at the Equator was more a collection of stories (told by an autobiographical narrator, Sammy [né Santiago] Martinez) than a novel, I thought that Manrique’s first novel in English, Latin Moon in Manhattan (1992), was a masterpiece of a novel (also with Sammy Martinez as its protagonist within the Colombian community of NYC). When I got Colombian Gold, I thought it was Manrique’s third novel rather than his first (or second, if El Cadáver de Papá is not considered as a draft for Colombian Gold).
I also admired the mixture of memoir, biography, and literary appreciation in Eminent Maricones (1998) and have not read the only novel Manrique has published so far during the present millennium, Our Lives Are the Rivers (2006, a historical novel with the protagonist being Manuela Sáenz, mistress of Gen. Simón Bolívar, El Libertador of South America). There is a preview of a forthcoming one, Cervantes Street, that opens in Seville, here.