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  • La novela sicaresca. Testimonio, sensacionalismo y ficción
  • Aldona Bialowas Pobutsky
Margarita Jácome. La novela sicaresca. Testimonio, sensacionalismo y ficción. Medellín: Fondo Editorial Universidad EAFIT, 2009. 255 pp.

Jácome's book is a timely project because, although the subject of narcocultura has moved to the fore of academic debates on Colombia, no systematic book-length study dedicated to the literature inspired by Colombian drug trafficking has emerged until now. Jácome's analysis begins by identifying the origin of the term "novela sicaresca" and by describing the sociopolitical circumstances that led to the emergence of the sicario. While the genre of narcocultura comprises all the actors of drug trafficking as well as a number of social phenomena resulting from drug-inspired violence, Jácome's analysis centers squarely on sicarios, meaning adolescent hitmen from the shantytowns of Medellín who found criminal employment with powerful cartels during the 1980s. Since their emergence in the crime subculture resulted from specific historical circumstances related to Pablo Escobar's reign of terror, Jácome is careful to provide a well-thoughtout and informed panorama of violence in Colombia that led to the appearance of the sicario.

Her examination returns to the blood-drenched period of the mid-twentieth century known as La Violencia, a historical moment that saw the emergence of the thug for hire and antecedent of the sicario, the so-called pájaro. It then includes a discussion on the expansion of marijuana use and sale in Medellín in the 1960s, the embrace of the hippy movement and its hedonistic celebration of life and individual freedom as a reaction to conservative politics and clericalism, and the discontent of the underprivileged sectors who were virtually abandoned by the state, itself in economic crisis. The chapter substantiates how this discord led to the rise in popularity of drug traffickers, who gained public support by injecting money into the faltering economy. Their hold over the poor sectors became particularly strong, in that they offered high-paying jobs to the unemployed who, as a result, grew to rely more on criminal organizations than on the state-sponsored infrastructures. These circumstances led to a curious inversion of social values, where drug trafficking lost its criminal stigma for a period of time, all the while ingraining itself into every aspect of Colombian life. It also coincided with the emergence of the counterculture of criminal youth—the sicarios—unique [End Page 235] in their bizarre religious practices, their idiosyncratic slang (parlache) and, above all, in their acceptance of an early and violent death, both for themselves and for their victims.

Jácome divides her project into five sections. After the first part described above, she examines Fernando Vallejo's bestselling novel La virgen de los sicarios as an example of orality. Here she underscores the role played by its semifictitious narrator, Fernando, putting emphasis on how his speech mediates his position in relation to the nation and to the young hitmen whom he befriends. Jácome argues that the intellectual discourse of the narrator—which serves initially to mark the distance between him and the volatile new Colombia infested by narco violence—morphs gradually into a more informal speech littered with the slang of the criminal youth. This in turn attests to the mutation of social relations in Colombia and to the subject's impotence vis-à-vis the country's gradual disintegration precipitated by corruption and impunity for its criminals. Jácome argues that since Vallejo's novel transfers responsibility for the crimes committed by sicarios onto society in general, it ends up idealizing the figure of the sicario, rather than giving him a voice in a testimonial fashion.

The third section of the book examines three different archetypes of the sicario, as evidenced in Alape's Sangre ajena (2000), Collazos's Morir con papa (1997), and Franco's Rosario Tijeras (1999). Perhaps due to the relative obscurity of the first two novels, which have received scant attention in Colombia and none abroad, Jácome thoughtfully offers close readings, paying attention to the features that render them unique. Thus Alape's narrative about two preteen brothers is one of very few...


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pp. 235-238
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