Headline, August 03 2021/ ''' '' COLOMBIA'S -STUDENTS- COLOSSEUM '' '''



GROWING HIS STORIES IN THE SOIL OF COLOMBIA'S TURMOIL : Juan Gabriel Vasquez sees his fiction as part of a thriving literary landscape.

JUAN GABRIEL VASQUEZ believes in the power of literature to open new spaces in the dialogue about his country's fraught past and present, something that has been increasingly on his mind since the 2016 peace agreements between the government and and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

''I realized that one of the most important things that was being negotiated was a version of our past,'' he said. '' We were trying to establish what has happened in Colombia in the past 50 years of war, and of course the only way of knowing that is by telling stories. That is where journalists and historian and novelists come in.''

IN THE OPENING STORY OF HIS NEW COLLECTION - ''Songs for the Flames,'' Juan Gabriel Vasquez writes about a war photojournalist who returns to a stretch of the Colombian countryside where, 20 years earlier, the casualties of the bloody conflict between paramilitary and guerrilla forces floated in a nearby river.

'' Now things were different in certain fortunate places : Violence was retreating and people were getting to know something like tranquility again,'' she thinks. Yet when she re-encounters a local woman, she realized that the horrors of the past - the suppressed memories, if not the bodies - remain just below the surface.

''The story shows you how fast the Colombian reality moves,'' Vasquez said in a video interview from Berlin, where he had been delivering a series of lectures on fiction and politics [''my usual obsessions''] at the Free University since early April. ''We try to deal with the present time in fiction, and reality leaves us behind.''

He is referring, of course, to late April, when Colombian reality abruptly changed once again : After the government of President Ivan Duque attempted a tax overhaul in response to economic fallout from the pandemic, mass strikes and demonstrations erupted across the country.

In the following weeks, the protests grew in intensity and expanded to encompass social issues of social inequality and police reform. Images of clashes with the police flashed across the world. The country was inflamed once again.

Vasquez, 48, whose novels such as '' The Sound of Things Falling'' and '' The Shape of the Ruins'' have chronicled Colombia's turbulent history, watched in horror from afar. It was ''frustrating and infuriating,'' he said, especially since the country's struggles with the pandemic, police violence and the divide between rich and poor had long been apparent.

''It was very sad that some of us - many of us - were able to see it, but not the government,'' he said with a sigh. ''It was all a storm waiting to happen.''

Because of the turmoil in Colombia, ''Songs for the Flames,'' which Riverhead is releasing in English on Aug.3, translated from Spanish by Anne McLean, feels particularly timely. But it arrived as something of a harbinger when it was published by Alfaguara in Columbia in 2018.

''A year later, we had demonstrations against police brutality in which 13 people were killed,'' Vasquez said, '' And now we have what we are witnessing every day. Colombian reality has an incredible talent for fulfilling bad omens.''

The book includes four previously published stories and five new ones, linked by what he described as ''echoes and common threads.'' Several of them are propelled by narrators who resemble earlier incarnations of Vasquez - struggling writers adrift in Europe, unsure about their future and whether or not to return home.

In ''The Last Corrido,'' a young novelist takes on magazine assignment touring with a Mexican band in Spain, pondering illness, mortality and his uncertain destiny along the way.

In '' The Boys,'' the rituals of circle of teenagers in Bogota reflect a world where judges and politicians are gunned down in broad daylight and the Cali and Medelin drug cartels are ''staring to be on on everyone's lips.'' The story, he said, ''is a metaphor for my own adolescence.''

Indeed, Colombia's literary landscape is thriving today thanks to writers such as Laura Restrepo, Jorge Franco, Pilar Quintana and Pablo Montoya, to name a few. It is not surprising, according to Vasquez, because ''places in conflict produce friction : Friction is where all the anxieties and discontent, the dissatisfactions and fears of a society filter down.''

Ricardo Silva Romero, a Bagota-based novelist and journalist, echoed Vasquez's sentiments in an email exchange. ''All Colombian literature has been made in the middle of war, all of it, from 'La Voragine' [ 'The Vortex,'' a 1924 novel by Jose Eustasio Rivera ] to 'Songs for the Flames,'' Silva Romero said. ''Our literary tradition, like our lives, runs along internal conflict. 

'' Maybe reality is too real around us. It is difficult to get out from under it : It imposes on your imagination, even if you didn't want it too,'' he said. '' I think we've tried to help us writers, but I am very discouraged nowadays. We live in a deeply sick society. Even the society of letters is sick.''

Vasquez's own mood is tense : The peace agreements, which both he and Silva Romero feel represent the best chance ''to free ourselves from the spiral of violence,'' have been politicized and are in danger, he said. ''And to me, the social unrest we see today is inseparable from the failure of our leaders to fulfill the promise of the agreements.''

But he has nevertheless managed to wrest something positive out of this difficult year. ''One of the strange things about the pandemic was that I went into this period of solitude and concentration like I have never known,'' he said. ''In nine months, I wrote a 480-page novel. It was unheard-of.''

The Serving of this publishing and the concern for Colombia and its people, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Anderson Tepper.

With respectful dedication to the People of Colombia, Students, Professors and Teachers, and then the world. See Ya all prepare and register for Great Global Elections on The World Students Society : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011 :

Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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