Antonio Ungar

Ungar photo

Born in Bogotá is 1974, Antonio Ungar graduated as an architect before taking up writing as a profession. Besides working as a journalist and translator, he has published three collections of short stories and the novels Zanahorias voladoras (Flying Carrots), Las orejas del lobo (The Wolf’s Ears; shortlisted for the Courrier International prize) and Tres ataúdes blancos (Three White Coffins), which was awarded the Premio Herralde in 2010. He was also included in the Bogotá 39. While his fiction often deals with the issue of Latin American politics, Ungar professes to be a nomad with no specific national identity. He has lived in Colombia, Mexico, Spain and England and recently spent time in Jaffa with his Palestinian wife. In an interview in El Espectador, he states that the novel uses humour to deal with a hard, deformed reality, but has also said that that reality could be Colombia, could be Venezuela, could even be Spain…

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Tres ataúdes blancos (Three White Coffins)


image of jacket cover of Tres ataúdes blancos by Antonio Ungar

Lorenzo, an overweight, alcoholic university teacher, spends his days slopping around in a dressing gown and concocting cocktails in the house he shares with his father. His only point of interest is a remarkable resemblance to Pedro Akira, the great hope of the opposition Yellow Party in the fictional state of Miranda. But when Akira is assassinated on the eve of disclosing incontrovertible proof of the corruption of the ruling party, led for the last twenty years by Tomás del Pito, Lorenzo’s life takes a bizarre turn: his old classmate, the coke-snorting Jorge Parra, a close associate of Akira, persuades him to cover up the candidate’s death by standing in as his double.

Tres ataúdes blancos is a Swiftian satire of Latin American political processes, a tragi-comedy and a poignant story of love, friendship and betrayal. Ungar’s deceptively simple prose style cuts through the surface detail to the essential contradictions of his characters and the unacceptable reality they inhabit. Recounted with an ample dose of black humour and irony, Lorenzo’s metamorphosis from antihero to a man of integrity in a world where such a concept seems farcical cannot fail to enthral readers.

Recommended by Christina MacSweeney and Ana Maria Correa

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  1. Uff, this is great. Will track down the Anagrama edition and read on.

  2. Is anyone else reading this? I’m about halfway through.

    The narration is brilliant. It is a little similar to Fiesta en la madriguera, but it also reminds me of Sin Noticias de Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza, one of my favourite books. It’s that naive style, pedantically recording details of every scene without realising what they mean, or else going way over the top in description (“as if way up in the sky something was looming over me, the dark shadow of Death or a considerably large bird.”)

    Other things I like:

    The pathetic achievements of the nation’s sportstars seized on as a reason to forget about how awful life is. The narrator’s recurring obsession with exactly what Pedro Akira was eating when he was shot. The brittle relationship he has with his dad. Sarcastic broadsides at how Spain and the U.S. report news about Latin America.

    Very good.

  3. It sounds great!

    I passed two copies on to readers last night when we had a reading with Juan Pablo Villalobos (Down the Rabbit Hole / Fiesta en la madriguera). He was really happy to see the book is in our reading group.

  4. Mike mcdevitt says:

    Couldn’t agree more. This is a belter! A bit like a Colombian version of Ignatius J Reilly – and what’s not to like about that?

  5. Well, the book changed considerably as it went on – all the lightness of touch and pedantic humour ebbs away and is replaced by a much more serious, affecting story. Which is no bad thing.

    I’ve put a longer review up on my blog, I think if you click my name you should find it :)

  6. Ana María Correa says:

    I’m nearing p. 60… There’s a poignancy to the humor that lends humanity to the absurdity of the narrator’s verbal tics and obsessive worries. Like what the back-cover blurb says: “Desaforado, desquiciado, hilarante, el narrador usa todas sus palabras para cuestionar, ridiculizar y destruir la realidad (y para reconstruirla de nuevo, desde cero, como nueva)”.

    I’m really enjoying this one. Very different from Las orejas del lobo, but this other first-person narration is just as wholly convincing.


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