Sergio Álvarez: Magical Realism has become an excuse for atrocities

I’m not particularly familiar with Sergio Álvarez but any kind of strong statement like this always catches my interest. Essentially, he is saying that magical realism can lull one into thinking that violence is the natural state of these exotic people.

Pregunta. ¿Este libro tiene algo de manifiesto?

Respuesta. Un poco. Me interesa mucho recuperar el placer de narrar por sí mismo, rescatar historias de personajes sencillos y salir de ese yo permanente, esa introspección permanente, característica de la literatura de hoy.

P. Entiendo, pero yo me refería a ruptura con la tradición del realismo mágico.

R. Es que ese movimiento literario, que fue magnífico, se ha convertido en una excusa para la atrocidad. Tanto en La lectora como aquí, lo que yo más quiero es señalar que en Colombia pasan cosas horribles y no falta quien diga “ah, claro, pero es que ése es el país del realismo mágico”. Mis libros apuntan a lo contrario: ponen las cosas crudas sobre la mesa para que se vea que estas cosas terribles no se pueden justificar.

P. O sea que usted saluda al realismo mágico pero propone pasar página.

R. García Márquez marca una época, pero hay que seguir adelante con la realidad que tenemos y no con la que quisiéramos tener o la que nos inventamos.

‘The Informers’ by Juan Gabriel Vásquez reviewed at the Los Angles Times

The Los Angles Times has a good review of The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. I’ve seen other reviews of the book (if I was a better blogger I would actually link to it) and they were all good. The book is an interesting mix of history and story telling that ranges over the last 60 years of Columbian and European history:

“The Informers” is narrated by Gabriel Santoro, a Bogotá reporter and author of a book that recounts the life story of a Jewish German immigrant named Sara Guterman whose family was one of many to escape to Colombia during the early years of Nazism. The primary distinction of “A Life in Exile,” this book within a book, is the review it receives from Santoro’s identically named father. The elder Santoro, a professor with a reputation as the moral conscience of the embattled nation, inexplicably savages the book in a prominent newspaper.

When his son confronts him, the scholar elaborates on his dismissal: “Memory isn’t public. . . . [T]hose who through prayer or pretense had arrived at a certain conciliation, are now back to square one. . . . you come along, white knight of history, to display your courage by awakening things . . . you and your parasitical book, your exploitative book, your intrusive book.”

The plot gets more complicated as it goes on and you’ll have to read the review to see more, but Adam Mansbach’s conclusion should make that an easy decision.

Vásquez is a hugely skilled writer, his prose weighted with authority and carefully observed detail, and he is a dexterous weaver of voices and time periods. “The Informers” fares best when he allows his protagonist to stay in the moment, to build scenes instead of imagining wide swaths of the past. The journalist’s visit to Enrique Deresser is gripping: revelatory and elusive, understated and devastating. Sara Guterman’s recollection of an explosive 1943 dinner the Deressers held for a Nazi named Bethke is deeply dramatic, rife with tension and complexity. The emotional impact of such scenes — in which a nation’s unresolved pain is distilled, writ small, in the actions of a single man or the volleys exchanged over a dinner table — hints at the power of which Vásquez is capable.