Historia oficial del amor. Ricardo Silva Romero. Bogotá: Alfaguara. 2016. 540 pages.
The title of the new novel by Ricardo Silva Romero – Historia oficial de amor [Official history of love] – captures and captivates the imagination of its reader and raises the question of how one can historicize love; and, if it’s possible to ask, of why this and no other is the “official history” the author presents. Even from reading only its first few pages, we can begin to understand to which history and to which love Silva Romero is alluding. In the book’s first chapters, we are made to feel the weight of the anxiety caused by the arrival of a new member of the family as the author – who acts as his own narrator – becomes a father. The joy and anguish generated by this moment of inflection in his life let loose the thread of the narrative.
At an early moment in the novel, that narrator affirms: “I am Ricardo and I am Silva and I am Romero,” in a sort of homage to his own family history, recognizing that past with the intention of understanding how his parents, and even his grandparents, managed to uphold a history of love without failing in their role as safeguards of the future within the chaotic society of Colombia.
One of the most important currents in Silva Romero’s work is his way of handling love from a wide perspective, entering into the subject not only through the “official” nature of the story but also through individual love and familial love. So, in the formation of the new family that will be fortified through the baby’s arrival, the author unstitches the story of his family as a researcher inquiring about his own emotional baggage, the material with which he will participate in the new society-family.
At this point in the narrative, it doubles back toward the past, covering days that marked – in one way or another – the history of the Silva and Romero families. As this familial thread unravels, the novel also touches in an intimate and subtle way on the history of politics and the political history of Colombia over the course of the twentieth century. Both families, but especially the Romero branch, have been associated with the political development of Colombia in the twentieth century, allowing the novel not only to comment on the family’s personal episodes, stories, anecdotes, journeys, and funerals, but also to subjectively connect these elements with relevant moments from the history of the Republic.
The particularity of Historia oficial de amor resides in its manner of presenting and connecting a double-history – that of public officiality and that of intimate familial love – and this particularity denotes one of the novel’s most interesting characteristics: the generosity of its vulnerability. Ricardo Silva Romero generously opens the doors of his personal history, offering his readers the possibility to reflect, thanks to our experience of his reading, on our own family history and to consider how, as individuals and families, we have survived the turbulent political life of our country, following the rhythm that has guided us through our everyday lives in spite of the violence, the elections and reelections, the murders of Low Murtra, Pizarro, and Galán, the riots, and the Bogotazo.
In the same way, it is interesting to observe that the novel’s retrospective development is coupled with constant references and the use of mediums, spiritualists, and readings of the Tarot and every other sort of card, revealing another of the text’s characteristics: its desire and anxiousness for the future in a text written to investigate and rethink the past. Here is one of its greatest paradoxes: while Historia oficial del amor narrates the present from the past and turns toward the past constantly, it also functions as a reading of the future from the uncertainty and anxiety of the present, personified in the little girl who’s about to be born.
It’s worth mentioning that the protagonists of this story, the Silva Romero family, offer a new vision of politics, since their heroism does not abide in great or reckless acts but in decency and honesty – two values that are constantly upheld by Colombian society but are not reflected in the protagonists of its own history. By linking the official history of Colombia with a more intimate history, which also forms part of this officiality, the author succeeds in questioning the role of the politics of intimacy, and not only through the evident links between this family and the country’s questions of class and political history. He also emphasizes everyday decisions as constant examples of the lives of men and women in society, creating a possibility to consider the implications of democracy beyond the strict act of electoral participation from the perspective of the routines and acts that define us day by day.
Even more importantly, the novel continuously reflects on the place of literature in our world and on the possibility of literature as a political exercise, not necessarily from belligerent discourse and partisan assignation, but also from reflection, from writing as a possibility of considering alternatives to “official” history.
Historia oficial del amor is, without a doubt, the most complete and daring book that Ricardo Silva Romero has written until now. With a clear, untarnished prose, the author leads us through the history of a Bogotá, of a Colombia, but above all of a family that manages, through and by means of love, to understand and confront the political upheavals of a tumultuous society.
Oscar F. Amaya