SEMANA/Literature | 10/24/2008 12:00:00 AM
The other Latin-American Idol
Bogotá novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez shines in Europe. His book the “Secret History of Costaguana” has been well received in Spain and “The Informers” has been translated and published in Great Britain.
A few weeks ago, during the Hay Festival of Segovia, Spain, he presented the book Divisadero and interviewed Michael Ondaatje, its author. All of a sudden Ondaatje stopped the conversation and asked a few questions to Vásquez about the way he wrote his books. The reason? The day before, London newspaper The Guardian had interviewed Vásquez and not Ondaatje in a story about the seminar.
Vásquez is living without a doubt his greatest moment internationally, and not only in Spain, where his novel “Secret History of Costaguana” has been well received. He is constantly invited to write in different print media, such as the supplement Babelia of Spanish newspaper El País. His work has been translated in other European countries, like France and the United Kingdom. Additionally he has been invited to participate in literary festivals like the Pen Literature Festival in New York, one of the most important literary meetings in the world. “I am pleased with all that has happened. I have never earned a cent that hasn’t come from books, because it has always been clear to me that literature should be the center of my life”, he says.
Good fortune has come, largely, because of the acceptance his novel The Informers has had after it was published in the beginning of the year by the famous publishing house Bloomsbury. It has been a big success, especially because of all the books which are published annually in Great Britain only four percent are translations from other languages.
The most important media in Great Britain have shown an interest in the work of Vásquez and have published reviews on their pages. “I think that Juan’s novels are different in a way that everything good is different”, explains Bill Swainson, editor of Bloomsbury. He decided to publish the novels of the Colombian writer because he considers him one of the best of the new group of Latin American writers who were largely showcased during the Encuentro Bogotá 39 festival. “The feeling that a new generation of Latin American writers is rising is very big and I’m very interested in getting to know them”, says Swainson, who identified Juan Gabriel after having asked around about young Spanish language authors. Javier Cercas, of whom Swainson has published two books in the U.K., spoke very highly of Vásquez. “It has been an honor for me to have Swainson as my editor because he is one of the most important ones. For example, he discovered Sebald in England”, says Vásquez.
The insistence of translator Anne McLean also helped. She fell in love with the work of Vásquez and is now translating “The Military” by Evelio José Rosero. “The most difficult part was finding an editor willing to place a bet on an author whose books he couldn’t read, but we have had a lot of luck because Bloomsbury is a marvelous publishing house that supports its authors”, says McLean, who assures that the good reviews the book has received have been simply because it is good and the editor has known how put it in the hands of the right readers, who know how to appreciate it. “I believe, and hope, that the critics have liked the same things I did when I read it for the first time.”
The future looks promising. In 2009 The Informers will be published in the United States and in 2010 Secret History of Costaguana will be published in the United Kingdom. This shows that not only Colombian musicians such as Shakira or Juanes have an international following, even though at times the press only has eyes for them.