FILBo Revisited

By bogotapost May 12, 2015

2170308755_5b98429977_oAs Bogota’s International Book Fair got into full swing over the past weeks, we bring you some reviews of the best it had to offer

FILBo 2105, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The fantastical world of Gabo’s imagination

Making Magic

FILBo honoured Colombia’s literary great with a pavilion dedicated to Márquez’s fictional town. Azzam Alkadhi delved into the magical world of Macondo

One year on from the death of Colombian literary hero Gabriel García Márquez, the dates of Bogota’s International Book Fair (FILBo) could hardly have been more appropriate. And what better way to commemorate the life and works of the Maestro than with a pavilion dedicated to Macondo, the fictional town his work made famous and this year’s ‘guest country’?

The organisers of FILBo decked out a huge space with images and information relating to the fantastical world of Gabo’s imagination. With Macondian landscapes projected onto screens on the wall, recordings of Márquez reading from his books emitting from massive hanging cylinder-shaped speakers, and a recreation of Melquíades’ lab, full of inventions and paraphernalia, the world of Macondo burst into life.

The space also included a 200-capacity recreation of La Gallera (the cock-fighting stadium), which was used to host Macondian cooking classes, talks and a slightly surreal, innuendo-filled ‘family show’, more reminiscent of the Chuckle Brothers than anything out of Márquez’s books.

FILBo 2105, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Bogota Post writer Dan Haddow studies the map of Macondo.

Such a sensory experience was perhaps the only way to bring to life an imaginary place, one that is so familiar, yet which Colombians have never seen. Macondo was a world in itself, with its own culture, history, beliefs, myths and legends, a poignant microcosm of Colombia and Latin America’s history, replete with social conflicts, civil wars and foreign invasions.

Ukrainian author Katja Petrowskaja (see above) was impressed: “I think it’s a great idea to declare Macondo a guest country – it is a real country.”

But not everyone was immediately taken by the concept. Mexican writer Yuri Herrera  (see right) says: “When I first heard the idea, I wasn’t convinced, given that the idea of a guest country is to bring writers and literature from other countries. But when I saw the pavilion, it struck me as a great context for interesting activities. It’s the most visited part of FILBo.”

The picture of Macondo, however real and vivid in the minds of readers, is one which will differ according to each person. A costeño, with his knowledge of culture and idiosyncrasies on the Colombian coast, will see it differently than a rolo who has only paid fleeting visits to the coast, and that image will be different from what a European, for example, who has never set foot in Colombia, would have in mind.

This was perhaps the greatest challenge for the organisers of the pavilion, but one which they tackled with aplomb, bringing together the most striking and memorable elements of Macondo. I would have been happy to spend the whole day staring at the giant map at the entrance, detailing the fruits of Gabo’s imagination. There was the Calle de los Turcos, the yellow train, Petra Cotes’ house and Macondo’s wetlands, all carefully placed on the impressive map.

Yet, while the pavilion was, on the whole, a roaring success, I was a little surprised not to see any signs or descriptions in English. Yes, we are in Colombia, but as an international book fair, FILBo might consider making its exhibits more accessible to non-Spanish speaking visitors.

Petrowskaja explains: “Someone said it’s like a mausoleum – here you have the complex mythology of Gabriel García Márquez. It was really interesting to watch this mix of people, young and old, all reading, making pictures, engaging – not just sightseeing. I wanted to be a part of the pilgrimage, but I couldn’t because of the language.”

If an internationally-renowned author, who speaks four languages, was unable to engage with the text-heavy exhibits, something is not quite right.

Yet for Gabophiles and vaguely-interested parties alike, this space was a wonderful recreation of a beloved town, a harking back to an epic age of invention and resourcefulness, a world of innocence and playfulness wrapped up in violence and injustice. All brought to life in a fitting commemoration of Colombia’s greatest literary hero.


Katja Petrowskaja FILBo 2015

Katja Petrowskaja, author of ‘Maybe Esther’. Photo: FILBo

Journey of rediscovery

Katja Petrowskaja explores her family’s Soviet past through her novel in German. Ana María Ortiz M takes in her talk at FILBo and speaks to the author about her writing afterwards

Vielleicht Esther (Maybe Esther), the latest book from Ukrainian writer Katja Petrowskaja, was one of the main draws of 2015’s version of FILBo. This multiple award-winning author was in Latin America for the first time and took a few days to visit Cartagena before the book fair.

Talking to The Bogota Post, she said it was a very different world. “I think that magic realism is not magic at all. Just realism. It’s a very heavy climate, very strange with all the people and this juicy mix of feelings from the soil and from the air.”

“I feel physically different – as if the air produces different thoughts.” She laughs, “Maybe that’s because I’ve eaten too many of all these different fruits.”

During the talk, moderator and Colombian author Guido Tamayo referred to the book as “an autobiographical text lacking fiction”. Petrowskaja herself claimed she did not consider herself a writer: “I am just a girl who studied literature and had the opportunity to share my words, which luckily for me happened to be liked by people.”

She described her return to the past, the questioning of her roots, and how she had an urge to answer those questions through literature.

“I was born and raised in the Soviet space, I come from a traditional Soviet family, so I really wanted to produce something that could narrate from a Jewish- Soviet perspective how the Second World War was lived. However, I did not want to put myself in the role of victim, which is why I decided to write the book in German, to free me from it.”

When we spoke after her talk, she explained that it was a different creative process to write outside her mother tongue – in a language she learned aged 27: “It doesn’t mean you add distance, if you read the book you will see there is no emotional distance there.” She continues, “But it is no longer telling a story about yourself, it is just a story.”

Back on the panel discussion, she shed light on the reasons behind her return to the bloody past of wartime Europe, on how her family was affected by the Stalinism and Fascism that prevailed in the region, and on the reconstruction of her personal history in which both dead and living relatives accompany her on her journey of discovery.

For Petrowskaja, these personal searches play a crucial role in the construction of collective memories which, as she sees it now, are often nothing more than “clusters of oblivion”.


Yuri Herrera Signs preceding the end of the worldHerrera brings style to FILBo

With three successful books already under his belt, Mexican author Yuri Herrera was a much-anticipated arrival at FILBo. Azzam Alkadhi caught up with him

His famed novel, Señales que Precederán al Fin del Mundo (Signs Preceding the End of the World), was translated into English in March this year, and the critics’ reception has been positive.

This gripping story, which was shortlisted for the Romulo Gallegos Prize, takes a unique look at US-Mexican border crossings, examining physical, spiritual and emotional relocation, and mixing modern-day perspectives with pre-Columbian mythology.

With an imaginative twist, this book delves into the struggle faced by immigrants, juxtaposing the hostility of the world with the humanity of the characters involved.

Herrera explains that, while the inspiration for the novel does not come from direct experiences, the themes and issues of tragedy, death and freedom are somewhat universal.

He tells The Bogota Post: “What we know about the world is not always autobiographical. It’s what we hear, what we observe. And while tragedy is not the central theme in my books, it is everywhere in life, it’s inevitable.”

These themes are equally prevalent in his most recent offering, La Transmigración de los Cuerpos (The Transmigration of Bodies), a poetic crime story, focusing on Mexican drug dealers. The novel takes place over the course of a day, with Herrera’s unique writing bringing together sex and tragedy, family and death, in an intense and captivating style.

La Transmigración de los Cuerpos is due to be released in English in 2016, with the English version of his debut book, Trabajos del reino (Kingdom Cons) due out the following year.

Herrera’s distinctive style shines through each of his novels – reflecting his clear penchant for writing.

Yuri Herrera Signs preceding the end of the world

Yuri Herrera, author of ‘Signs preceding the end of the world’. Photo: FILBo

He explains: “Since I was little, books have always been something valuable to me… but I didn’t think I’d dedicate myself to writing full-time, I always wanted to do it for the pure pleasure.”

Such literary pleasure is something that Herrera was happy to see at FILBo. Not only was he taken aback by the sheer size and popularity of the fair, but also by the public’s engagement with the event: “I was impressed to see so many children and young people at FILBo. And they weren’t there out of obligation, but because they wanted to be there – they were having fun.”

So which one book would Herrera recommend to these enthusiastic young readers?

“Just one? Well, it changes in every period of your life, but at the moment it would have to be Coleccionistas de Polvos Raros by Colombian writer Pilar Quintana. It’s beautiful and horrible at the same time, like most great literature.”