7 Contemporary Colombian Authors who are not García Márquez
Yes, Gabo is the international literary face of Colombia, and yes, every other Colombian author has read him. But there are many more authors that represent the country from different perspectives. Colombia has an important literary tradition that is shaped by the different stories, origins, and genders of its authors. Some stayed in Colombia enduring the violence, others emigrated before they could have memories of it. Some are from distant Bogotá, others from the sweaty, somnolent coast, or from vibrant Cali or Medellín. Colombian literature is more than magical realism, sometimes stories are situated on the edge of our world, and others narrate the very real violence that shaped it. Running the gamut from nostalgia to resentment to peace of mind, the following contemporary Colombian authors enrich the literary horizons of the country Colonel Aureliano Buendía once fought for.
Hector Abad Faciolince
This novelist and essayist born in Medellín, wrote an article this year on why he supported the peace process, which went viral, even convincing author and politician Mario Vargas Llosa that the peace process in Colombia was worth a try. Faciolince experienced violence in Colombia first hand: the paramilitary killed his father in 1987 for his vocal opposition against the war crimes being committed in rural areas. Faciolince wrote about this in his acclaimed story El olvido que seremos (Oblivion), named after a poem written by Borges that Hector Abad’s father had in his pocket when he was shot. His other books are La Oculta, a reflection of Medellín's society narrated through a family’s relationship to their country house, and Angosta, a 2005 award-winning novel that narrates the story of a fictional village, a reflection of Colombia within a microcosm.
One of the foremost authors of contemporary Colombian literature, Santiago Gamboa is also a journalist, who studied in Madrid and Paris. His experiences in Europe led him to write El Sindrome de Ulises, (The Ulysses Syndrome), a novel reminiscent of the Paris Julio Cortázar drew years before: gloomy, rainy, cold and disappointingly unwelcoming, mainly due to high expectations. The novel follows several stories of migrants, narrating their relationship to their home and host countries, and how being a foreigner redefines their personalities and introspections. His Plegarias Nocturnas (Night Prayers), is a quest about a brother and sister that takes place between Colombia, Thailand, Japan and India.
An award-winning poet, novelist and essayist, Alvaro Mutis was called “one of the greatest writers of our time,” by his friend Gabo. Mutis died in 2013. Despite his creative polyvalence, it was his character Maqroll el Gaviero who captured Latin America's imagination. Gaviero is a play on words between the sailor who is the lookout, and the word for seagull in Spanish. Maqroll travels the Amazon, makes stopovers in Panama, crosses the Andes, navigates the Caribbean and sails all the way to the Mediterranean. The people he travels with are equally diverse, the depressed Dutch captain, an ingenious woman from Trieste, and his Lebanese companion who dreams of having his own ship. The palette of places and people is embellished with adventures of treasure hunting during a gold rush, opening a brothel in amnesic Panama for businessmen who stay one night and never return, or adventures in arms dealing.
Treading a fine line between reality and fiction, her novel Delirium deals with a couple, Aguilar and Agustina, in which the Agustina goes insane while Aguilar leaves on a short trip. Trying to discover what happened, Aguilar retraces the events of the past 48 hours, and realizes that he did not really know who Agustina was. Looking through the evidence, it becomes clear that whatever has affected Agustina is linked to Colombia’s violent history, and to the inherited colonial attitudes of classism and machismo. This novel won the Premio Alfaguara in 2004.
Antonio Caballero is well known in Colombia for his insightful columns, incisive cartoons, and occasional novels. His novel Sin Remedio (Without Remedy) originated from the author's impressions of El Bogotazo, a watershed moment in Colombian history, as the amateur student of Colombian history will understand. The novel is centered on an author in Bogota who looks outwards in search for inspiration, but in the end is influenced by the situation in his city. While much of the literature from Colombia seeks to explain the national realities from the perspective of the countryside, this book breaks with this tendency and evokes Bogotá, sometimes considered an island within the country.
Juan Gabriel Vázquez
Another winner of the Premio Alfaguara (seriously, these guys have taste), his book El ruido de las cosas al caer (The Sound of Things Falling) narrates as much the history of its main character, professor Yammara, as the history of Colombia. From a personal perspective, he explores the psyche of Colombians, in that the common past creates common identities. In this book, the common past revolves around the drug trade and the subsequent Pablo Escobar-induced violence.
Caicedo is a less contemporary author, though he could still be alive if he had not committed suicide at age 26. His career was short and meteoric, and was maybe best exemplified by Qué viva la música! (Liveforever) This story narrates the city of Cali in the 1970s, a music loving, drug-ridden place, in which the main character, Carmen Huerta, jumps from party to party and from people to people, trying to figure herself out, forever searching for a place where she can loose herself in the music.
top image courtesy red wine & lipstick