In This Review

Oblivion: A Memoir
Oblivion: A Memoir
By Héctor Abad
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012, 272 pp

The author’s father, a distinguished physician and prominent human rights activist, was gunned down in 1987 in Medellín, Colombia, by one of the right-wing death squads that operated with impunity in the country at that time. This poetic memoir is many things at once: a sensitive son’s recollections of growing up in a loving family; a proud homage to his generous father, who was devoted to his relatives, his many medical students, and his wider community and whom Abad describes as “Christian in religion, Marxist in economics, and liberal in politics”; and a moving contemplation of human tragedy and memory (“an opaque, cracked mirror”). Abad denounces the extreme political violence of the period, when military intelligence operatives joined with rich landowners to systematically eliminate “terrorists.” Struggling against the human instinct for vengeance, he instead affirms his father’s adherence to nonviolence and rational discourse. In the spirit of tolerance, Abad notes that on learning of his father’s martrydom, the Colombian Senator Álvaro Uribe, a conservative hard-liner who later became the country’s president, graciously asked his colleagues to observe a minute of silence in honor of the fallen patriot.