The View from Here – Books from Colombia
Welcome to the world of books. In the last feature in this series we were enjoying the crisp snowy conditions of Finland. Now we’re heading to a country more associated with sun than snow. We travel to Colombia to hear from Laura Sesana
Let’s meet Laura
I am originally from Bogotá, Colombia. My mother is Colombian; my father is Italian. I grew up in Bogotá and moved to the U.S. for college. I spent a year in Rome after college and returned to Colombia in my 20s to write the text for a book about our national parks, Colombia: Parques Naturales, winner of the 2007 Latino Book Award. I returned to the U.S. to get my law degree and never left!
I run two different blogs, Lasesana.com and ArbiterNews.com. Lasesana is more of a personal blog, where I write about books I’m reading, food I’m cooking and my DIY projects. Arbiter News is a collaboration with a few other writers and journalists where we focus on fact-based reporting. Because we are a smaller publication, we are less constrained by professional relationships and hopefully also free of much of the bias and spin prevalent in mainstream media. We report the facts and let our readers decide.
Q. What kinds of books are the most popular right now in Colombia?
Colombia is a country of avid readers with a robust publishing industry and literary culture. Brick-and-mortar bookstores and book cafés are still very popular. Colombia has an adult literacy rate of almost 94 percent and books of all kinds are very popular. Colombians read about everything, and thanks to the fact that most books are translated to Spanish very quickly, Colombians read books from all over the world. For example, Paulo Cohelo’s Adultery and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars were both among the top 10 best-selling books in Colombia in 2014.
As far as books by Colombians, the country’s drug war—especially the bloody era of the early 1990s that culminated with the death of Pablo Escobar on a rooftop in Medellín in 1993—is a prevalent topic, not just in literature, but in film and television. A memoir by Pablo Escobar’s son, Juan Pablo, published in December 2014, became an instant best seller. Another book dealing with the same topic, Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s El ruido de las cosas al caer (The Sound of Things Falling), has been at the top of Colombian best-seller lists since its publication in 2011.
Q. What books do you remember having to study in school that could be considered classics of literature by Colombian authors?
La rebelión de las ratas (The Rats’ Rebellion), by Fernando Soto Aparicio, about an uprising of the lower social classes in a fictional town in Boyacá.
La vorágine (The abyss), by Jose Eustacio Rivera, a Colombian Heart Of Darkness set in the Amazon.
Relato de un naufrago (The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor), the first book I read by Gabriel García Márquez.
María, by Jorge Isaacs, a romantic novel considered one of the country’s literary masterpieces.
Poetry by Rafael Pombo, we all grew up with his children’s poems and they have become part of our national and Latin-American culture.
I think it is a good list, but I would have included Fernando Soto Aparicio and Jose Eustacio Rivera.
Q. Tell us about some of the themes and traditions of literature in your country?
Early Colombian literature, like the literary traditions of many former colonies, first imitated—then reacted to Spanish literature. Many of the early themes included the Spanish conquest, chronicles and religion. When Colombia gained its independence from Spain, literature reflected society’s preoccupation with government and politics.
In the 19th century, Colombian writers focused on depictions of nature and peasant life (costumbrismo), as well as criticism of government and the ruling classes.
The 20th century saw several literary movements in Colombia, including modernism, los nuevos, piedra y cielo, nadaísmo, and the boom generation.
Violence and a criticism of our society are two main themes that pop up time and again in Colombian literature. For the past two to three decades, Colombian writers have been preoccupied with the violence and horror of the Pablo Escobar years. I think that many of us who lived through that strange and crazy time in our country’s history feel like we need to talk about it, write about it, read about it, and relive it. It is cathartic for writers as well as for readers, making us realize how far we have come as a nation and as a society since the mid 1990s. There is still a lot that needs to be addressed, but nobody can deny that Colombia is a completely different place today.
Q. Is there a noticeable difference between literature from Colombia and that from your other parts of South America? Are the writers different for example from those in Brazil?
As I mentioned earlier, the uniquely bloody history of Colombia, our on-going civil war, the narco war, have all had an effect on the country’s literature that make it different from literature in other South American countries. The “narco,” has become a familiar character in Colombia’s literature, and we keep returning to examine those very difficult years through every angle possible.
However, it would be simplistic to say that Colombians are obsessed only with the gruesomeness of that era. This characterization would ignore the fact that life was still going on amid the violence and horror. People were getting married, having children, graduating from high school, falling in love for the first time.
Many of us came of age in that era, and despite it being a terrible time in our country, it was paradoxically also a very happy time. Most of us have wonderful, happy memories of those years alongside the horrible ones, and I think that the juxtaposition of these opposing feelings about a time and a place in our past makes for some pretty powerful literature.
Q.Do you have a favourite author?
At the risk of sounding cliché, my favorite Colombian authors are Gabriel García Márquez and the poet Rafael Pombo.
My favorite authors overall have to be John Irving and Stephen King.
You can connect with Laura via her blog or Twitter, Pinterest accounts:
- Lasesana: http://lasesana.com/
- Arbiter News: http://arbiternews.com/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/lasesana @lasesana
- Our Awesome Pinterest Book Board: https://www.pinterest.com/lasesana/books-to-read-reviews-and-recommendations/
Want to Discover More Countries?
The View from Here series features guest articles on the literature of many countries including India, Sri Lanka, Canada. For the complete list, visit the View from Here page
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