“I felt for my father the same way my friends said they felt for their mothers.”
By Zamangwane Ngwane | 26 October 2018
Hector Abad’s Oblivion is a rich and moving memoir about Hector Abad Gomez – a Doctor, Teacher, Columbian Social Activist and most importantly, a Father. The memoir took 20 long years to write after the passing of its protagonist and is written through the eyes of his son and celebrated author (by the same name), Hector Abad. The story is set in Medellin, Columbia and spans the period 1960 to 1987 (when Abad Gomez is killed).
The book although weaving together several themes is primarily a depiction of the often neglected father-son relationship. Abad’s relationship with his father is depicted as tender, intimate and deeply emotional, something of an anomaly in our current social context. The book has many memorable moments, with one of my favorite illustrations being of a young Abad bluntly telling his nanny that he would rather go to hell, if his father were not in heaven.
Through the lens of his adult eyes, Abad reflects on the importance of the love, approval and affirmation that his father has given him as the foundation of his own character. In sharing this intimate relationship, Abad seriously challenges the prevailing societal norms of paternal relations and masculinity, which tend to frown on showing affection to boys.
Oblivion is also an engaging account of the social condition of Columbia in the aftermath of the country’s Civil War, La Volencia, which spanned the decade 1948 – 1958. The war ultimately claimed around 300 000 lives, displaced more than 1 million people and left an indelible mark on the country’s social identity. In spite of the war being over, Abad illustrates how society is still heavily marred by conflict and violence that is rooted in political factionalism. Everyone lives under a cloud of fear as abductions, gruesome murders and torture are conditioned into everyday reality.
It is against this backdrop that Abad Snr. emerges as an activist advocating for the protection of basic rights such as: access to healthcare, clean water and basic amenities in the largely marginalized rural countryside. For his works he is earmarked as a threat by both the left and rightwing political parties in Medellin; criticized by the Church as being a radical and is rejected by his medical and academic counterparts for “preaching” a preventative doctrine of health. In spite of all the threats on his life, Abad Snr. continues his work and is ultimately killed in a martyr fashion.
Not a new theme to South American literature is the overarching influence of the Catholic Church in the book. Throughout the memoir, Abad juxtaposes the hope that the church and religion offers to its believers with the criticism against it for its overt political leanings and loud silence against social injustice and civilian killings.
Hector Abad has written an exquisite and truly warming account which also doubles as a coming-of-age novel. The book is entertaining and takes its reader through a range of emotions. This book is truly worthy of a classic status and is a compelling read for all.