Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A literary guide to Colombia

Matthew Fishbane wrote Salon's literary guide to Colombia. He acknowledges a few works of magical realism and the contribution of Gabriel García Márquez, but he casts a wider net.


Two contemporary authors, Fernando Vallejo and Jorge Franco, both recently given high-profile English translations, explore an increasingly urban reality, as opposed to the rural, timeless and universal fantasy of the magical realists -- the young writers' stone to Gabo's Goliath. Vallejo, who lives in Mexico City, depicts in "Our Lady of the Assassins" (1994) a disillusioned returning writer in love with a series of young male assassins. Nothing sacred in Colombian society, from iconic liberator Simón Bolívar to the Roman Catholic Church, is spared Vallejo's ecstatic rage. "Colombia changes," laments the narrator, "but remains the same, this is the new face of the same old disaster."

It's no accident that Vallejo and Franco are both from Medellín, the regional capital that shepherded the first great drug lord and the thorny prosperity and scourges in his wake. (Read Mark Bowden's masterly, intricate "Killing Pablo" (2001) to grasp the fascination -- and the almighty dread -- "Don Pablo" Escobar continues to evoke for Colombians even 13 years after his death.) Medellín may be "wrapped in the arms of two mountain ranges," as it's described in Franco's "Rosario Tijeras" (1999), but there's nothing precious about the ferocity of the Colombian "barrio popular." Franco's young sophists, lacking formal education but superbly schooled in cruelty, observe with casual innocence events only readers can recognize as unjust. As Emilio, the lovelorn and slumming narrator, says, "We don't know how long our history is, but we can feel its weight." Rosario's last name, Scissors, is a sobriquet bestowed after one of many acts of violence against "being born to misfortune." In the book, a corpse gets shot (again) in his casket while another gets paraded around his favorite salsa bars. Franco, Vallejo and others writing in an urban noir vein defiantly turn over the decayed log of Colombian society to examine the activity underneath, seeking that combination of thrilling revulsion and incredulous wonder that Colombia seems so adept at provoking: extremes of terror and beauty.

Read the Salon article.

Other items in Salon's literary guide series include:
A literary guide to The Netherlands
A literary guide to Chile
A literary guide to Alaska
A literary guide to Washington, D.C.
A literary guide to Vancouver
A literary guide to Baltimore
A literary guide to Argentina
A literary guide to Afghanistan
A literary guide to Louisiana
A literary guide to Australia
A literary guide to Norway
A literary guide to Turkey
A literary guide to Japan
A literary guide to Martha's Vineyard
A literary guide to West Texas
A literary guide to Togo
A literary guide to Brooklyn
A literary guide to Miami

--Marshal Zeringue