And the son, who was 28 at the time of his father’s death a quarter century ago Saturday, would become one of Colombia’s most accomplished novelists.
But in the years following the politically motivated slaying, the young writer struggled time and again to tell the most compelling story he knew. Now, after years of false starts, “Oblivion: A Memoir,” Abad’s passionate tribute to his father and a shattering chronicle of Colombia’s violence, has been published in the United States to strong critical reviews.
It is a memoir about a jovial father who was also a formidable intellectual, humanitarian doctor and political radical whose outspokenness about the injustices in this country triggered a murderous rage among reactionary forces.
“From the beginning, when I was seated in the pool of my father’s blood, I knew I had to tell that story, to write a book and tell the truth and not let the assassins impose their lies on us,” said Abad, now 53. “But for many years, the only thing that would happen when I wrote was I’d become shaken. So I’d write some pages, phrases and words that were simply overly emotional, very teary. That doesn’t work in literature.”
First published in Spanish in 2006, “Oblivion” does the unusual in what Abad calls “a country without memory” — recalling in loving detail a victim of the profound political violence that has been a scourge for decades.
“The book is a great journalistic work about a family, Hector’s family, but also a multi-layered look at the country and the violence we lived through in the ’80s,” said Luis Alberto Arango, a bookseller and friend of Abad’s. “It is done with tact, with distance, with the discretion that’s needed. Because it could have been a book distorted by rage, and that’s not what it is.”
Abad, who is also a newspaper columnist, said he has always been frustrated by the attention journalists, scriptwriters and novelists in Colombia have given to “evil figures.” He was referring to men like the flamboyant cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar and the paramilitary commander Carlos Castaño, whose anti-guerrilla forces worked closely with military units to assassinate leftists.
“In this city, there have been victims who were victims not for all the evil things they had done, but for the exact opposite,” Abad said. “I wanted to leave that testimony.”
The author mines a rich subject: his father, who was a multifaceted and sometimes comically contradictory civic leader. As Abad writes in “Oblivion,” the elder Abad was a pioneer in public health but hated blood, pus, emissions “and everything that is inherent to the everyday practice of medicine.”