The Singer's Needle: An Undisciplined History of Panamá
by Ezer Vierba
University of Chicago Press, 2020
Cloth: 978-0-226-34231-3 | eISBN: 978-0-226-34259-7 | Paper: 978-0-226-34245-0

Ezer Vierba’s The Singer’s Needle offers an innovative history of twentieth-century Panamá that illuminates the nature of power and politics in a small but volatile nation. Using novelistic techniques, Vierba explores three episodes that proved critical to the shaping and erosion of contemporary Panamanian institutions: the establishment of a penal colony on the island of Coiba in 1919; the judicial drama following the murder of President José Antonio Remón Cantera in 1955; and the “disappearance” of a radical priest in 1971. The episodes are layered in different styles and perspectives, with the narrative voices both illuminating and concealing key moments that illustrate how powerful interests control and create social and political history. Vierba blends historical sociology with novelistic narrative and extensive empirical research, drawing on Michel Foucault’s ideas about the inherent and intricate connections between power, interpretation, and representation. The result is a book that redefines conventional methods of historical writing.

In short, Vierba has produced a multifaceted and deeply felt novelistic tale that reveals not only the nature of power—both institutional and disciplinary—but the contemporary history of a complex country over the course of a tumultuous century.

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