“I loved my father with an animal love, his smell and also the memory of his smell on the bed when he was away on a trip . . . I felt for my father the same way my friends said they felt about their mothers.” Oblivion is a heartbreaking tribute to the author’s father, Héctor Abad Gómez, whose criticism of the Colombian regime led to his murder by paramilitaries in 1987. Twenty years in the writing, it paints an unforgettable picture of a man who followed his conscience and paid for it with his life during one of the darkest periods in Latin America’s recent history. Transcending the political, it shines as one of the most exquisitely written accounts of profound love between a father and son that modern literature has to offer.
Héctor Abad was born in Medellín, Colombia, in 1958, where he studied medicine… Read more
Book Club Questions
- Why was Abad’s father, Héctor Abad Gómez, killed?
- What did Abad’s father believe in? Do you think he was right to continue to fight for his ideals knowing he could be putting himself and his family in danger?
- Can you describe Abad’s father’s way of parenting? Was this somewhat radical in Colombia at the time? Why not, why?
- Abad’s mother and father held some very different beliefs: how do you think this helped their relationship and in what ways do you think this might have made things more difficult between them?
- Does the Colombia described in this memoir bear any resemble to where you live? If so, how? If not, how does it differ?
- Have you ever experienced state violence or censorship? How do you think this might affect your behavior and actions?
- Can you describe Abad’s relationship to his father?
- How does Abad’s family compare with your own? Who are you close to in your family, and can you describe that closeness?
- Try to describe Abad’s father using five adjectives. What do you think was his strongest character trait? And what do you think were his failings?
- What effect do you think Abad’s father has left on the younger Abad’s personality?
- Why did Abad need to write this book, and why so long after the events? What effect do you think the writing of this book had on the author?
- What effect, if any, do you think this book might have on the people and politics of Colombia?
- Does the political atmosphere of Colombia change over the duration of the story? In what ways?
- What do you think of the exiled friend of his father that Abad meets up with in Spain? Can you describe his experience: how he might feel; how he might have changed?
- What did you feel coming away from this book? Do you think the love rises above the sadness of the story?
“Forgotten We’ll Be” based on the novel by Héctor Abad is the winner of the Goya Award 2021 for Best Ibero-American film, the most important award in Spanish cinema.
“Memories of My Father” is based on Oblivion, Héctor Abad’s memoir: a powerful true story, written with blood and love, to an exemplary father.
‘As an account of the love between a son and his father it is most moving. But it is also a clear-sighted exploration of the terrible sickness that afflicted Colombia in the 1980s, some pages so painful that one flinches from reading them. In all, it is a tragic and unforgettable history.’ —JOHN COETZEE
‘This searing memoir written with love and blood is an act of courage in its own right.’ —New York Times
‘Oblivion is a memoir of filial devotion. Abad distils the bond of love between father and son in a family dominated by women to its purest essence. The result is a shattering chronicle of Colombia’s violence. But it is also an inspiring tribute to tolerance and paternal love.’ —The Guardian
‘A rousing, affecting tribute.’ —Kirkus Reviews
‘A book so beautiful, it is a treasure and a heartbreak to read.’
FATIMA BHUTTO, author of The Runaways
‘One of the most eloquent arguments written in our time or any time against terror as an instrument of political action.’ —MARIO VARGAS LLOSA
‘A tremendous and necessary book, with an overwhelming courage and honesty. At times I wondered how he had the bravery to write it.’ —JAVIER CERCAS
‘I store up what I have read by Héctor Abad like spherical, polished, luminous little balls of bread, ready for when I have to walk through a vast forest in the nighttime.’ —MANUEL RIVAS
‘Oblivion demonstrates the complexities of contemporary Colombian society as much as it does the burning desire to rescue the public works of the author’s beloved father.’ —World Literature Today
‘Not only is it a beautiful and profoundly moving work, not only is it a necessary lesson on current themes such as civic education and the relation between personal and historical memory, but it is also an irreplaceable testimony of the struggle for democracy and tolerance in countries that are so near and dear to us.’ —FERNANDO SAVATRE, El País
Why You Should Read This Book
“This novel consists of various acts of love. I received so much love that I had to return the favor somehow. The life of my father was a series of acts of love, up until he was shot. The first impulse when something horrible happens to you is to forget in order to survive. That’s why I wrote this book twenty years after the assassination. It seemed unjust to completely erase the memory. Now, since in the book I remember everything, I can afford to truly forget.”
HÉCTOR ABAD, the author
“We often compare literary translation to acting, though not many directors would cast either of us, much less the pair of us, in the role of Héctor Abad. And although it might be easier to step into and recreate a fictional narrative voice than to take on the responsibility of portraying a real person―in this case a friend―it was also enormously rewarding to try to bring this important story of a father and son, of a family in a particular place and time, and of Colombian political and religious conflicts, into English with as much force and eloquence as Héctor does in Spanish.”
ANNE MCLEAN and ROSALIND HARVEY, the translators
“This book has left a deep, deep impression on me. The intimate love story of a father for his son and his family is truly beautiful, and just as tangible as the pain caused by his unjust death. One cannot but admire this father who stood up for his humanist principles and was killed as a result. This book is highly personal as well as political. It is one of those books that have the rare power to change your view on life.”
JUDITH UYTERLINDE, the publisher