Jolted by memories triggered by an escaped hippopotamus from the abandoned zoo that was once owned by the drug lord Pablo Escobar, a man recollects on a series of events that altered his life to such a traumatic degree that he struggled to cope years later. Though the story is focused on this law professor named Antonio who unwittingly started a friendship with an older man while playing billiards in the afternoon after his lectures, it shows how the drug wars, especially in the early years of the 1980s, aﬀected people in Colombia, even those not directly tied to the drug trade. Antonio’s hesitant friendship with Laverde eventually lead to him being beside him when gun toting motorcyclists shot him down, and though Antonio survived the attack, both the physical and emotional wounds were severe. Two years later, he is still riddled with fears. When he receives a call from Laverde’s daughter Maya, he abandons his wife and young daughter and leaves the plateaus of Bogotá to descend into the Magdalena Valley, in search of answers for why he nearly lost his life. Near the end of his visit, he and Maya travel again to the ruins of Escobar’s zoo, which they both had visited as children.
Sidenote: Apparently the hippos are still creating havoc and growing in numbers as, unlike the native Africa, “the warm, wet weather is perfect for year-round mating.”
It’s a wistful book with beautiful language and memorable scenes. There’s a recurring element of events mirrored in the various levels of the past Antonio digs into, including two plane crashes and two young children separated from their fathers, as well the two zoo visits. In a bit of external synchronicity, it ties in perfectly with Al’s essay on memory, which was what I read directly before starting this novel.