In Masks and Other Stories From Colombia, Richard Crosfield brings us twenty five tales set in Colombia, the majority of them viewed through the privileged eyes of Printer, a British expatriate.
Printer, we are told, has a good ear for a story, and is much in demand by hosts and hostesses at parties to recount these tales. He also has more empathy and sympathy for the Colombians who surround him than do most of the other cossetted expats. Naturally, this acts as a good device to introduce several of the stories.
Some of the stories are little more than vignettes, bringing the reader into the lives led by the mixture of the very poor, the well-to-do middle class, and the extremely well-off and powerful of Colombian society, as well as the expats among whom Printer lives and works. These appear to do little more than illustrate what the lives of these people are like, yet at the end of each story something has changed; there has been resolution of some kind.
Of the others, some demonstrate that you don’t always require an earth-shattering event to create a satisfactory ending, but just a quiet re-drawing of the landscape. Something has shifted, perhaps so subtly that not all the protagonists have even noticed. But we, the readers, see it clearly.
Yet it is easy for the reader to become lulled into a false sense of security by this, so that we are caught out – shocked, perhaps – when we come to one of the stories that has a more powerful and emotional conclusion.
The temptation when placing stories in a setting that is very different from the writer’s own setting, even when that writer has spent a good deal of time there – perhaps especially when that writer has spent a good deal of time there – is to either set all of them in the almost artificial world inhabited by the expat, or to try to set them in the wider community, a community that perhaps they may not completely understand. Richard has managed successfully to do both, something that demonstrates an easy familiarity with both these worlds.
Throughout the book, we can see that the author’s sympathies lie very much with the underdogs of Colombian society, although the stories never become clichés of the noble poor versus the evil rich. They are told with too much intelligence and enough humour to escape that, and, perhaps above all, the writing itself is easy and a joy to read.
Expect to encounter amateur cricketers and murderous bandits, whores and priests, street kids and artists. And a whole host of others.
This is most certainly a five star read.
My disclaimer – I received a copy of this book having beta read one of the stories for the author, although I was not asked to write a review. But my admiration for the stories and my pleasure reading them is entirely genuine.