When Adam Lacroft Met Death

when adam lacroft met death

“I’m what awaits at the end.” She added in a deep
voice, mocking a storyteller, “The one thing no man can avoid.” She giggled at my unchanging look of incomprehension. “I’m Death, silly.”

When Adam Lacroft Met Death (New Generation: 2013) isn’t the kind of Venezuelan literature I usually come across. For a start, it’s written in English. The author, Carlos Paolini, is currently resident in the States, studying marketing, but was born and raised in Caracas and smatterings of Venezuelan speech appear throughout the novel. I must admit I was anxious when I received the book, as 19-year-old Paolini, like his young protagonist Lacroft, seems extraordinarily self-assured – would he have the talent to back it up? I’m happy to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by his debut.

When Adam Lacroft Met Death is the first of a trilogy of fantasy novels for young adults, revolving around an underachieving high school student who comes face to face with Death after a car accident. Far from the stereotypical hooded figure, Death is a beautiful 20-something brunette, who calls herself Eve and seems to know all of Adam’s hidden desires. Eve offers Adam a moral dilemma: if can find and kill the man who killed him within three days he will  win back his own life. As t becomes increasingly clear that Eve cannot be trusted, will Adam be able to resist his temptation towards her and find a way to save himself? If a battle of wits with Death wasn’t complicated enough, Adam must also save his budding romance with the love of his life, Erica, but she has secrets of her own.

Having dropped out of law school after three months, Carlos spent a year just trying to absorb as much literature and film as he could. It shows, as references abound, from Dante’s Inferno to Oscar Wilde. As a Brit, I particularly appreciated Adam’s passion for our indie music too!

The initial irritation at Adam’s character gives way to a real warmth towards him thanks to his endearing nervousness trying to woo Erica, and then an admiration at how he matures as he tries to deal with death. It’s easy to get sucked in by him, just as Eve and Erica do. Not just the cliffhanger ending, but the fast-paced, engaging narrative throughout, left me impatient for Carlos to finish the next instalment.

Buy When Adam Lacroft Met Death from Amazon UK

The Heraclitus of Los Puertos by Mariano Nava

Mariano Nava Contreras (Maracaibo, 1967) is both an acclaimed short story writer and a classical Greek scholar. A Professor of Greek Language and Literature at Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida, he has published three non-fiction books – Envuelto en el Manto de Iris. Tradición clásica y literatura de la Emancipación venezolana (Mérida, 1996), Novus Iason. La tradición grecolatina y la Relación del Tercer Viaje de Cristóbal Colón (Mérida, 2006) and Dos ensayos sobre humanismo clásico y pensamiento de la emancipación en Venezuela (Mérida, 2010) – as well as four collections of short stories – El blues de la cabra mocha (Mérida, 1995), Cuentos de los cuentos que nos contaron (El Tigre, 1996), Vidas, hechos y palabras de ilustres filósofos difuntos (Maracay, 1996) y Culo’e hierro y otros relatos (Mérida, 2004).

In ‘Heráclito Puertero’ (The Heraclitus of Los Puertos), taken from Vidas, hechos y palabras de ilustres filósofos difuntos, these two interests come together to tell the story of a Venezuelan man who lives by Heraclitian philosophy.

Read the original version of the story, Heráclito Puertero, on Ficción Breve here.

The Heraclitus of Los Puertos by Mariano Nava

And it is the same thing in us that is quick and dead,
awake and asleep,
young and old;
the former are shifted and become the latter,
and the latter in turn are shifted and become the former.
Heraclitus, fragment 88.

1. Noel Federico Olivero Olivares, my great-grandfather, didn’t bat an eyelid, he folded the telegram and put it under the small plate of peas that he was eating, and calmly continued his lunch. He laughed to himself – they didn’t tell me that, but I know he did – and thought: “You can’t step into the same river twice either”.

“What is it, Noel, what happened?” Mamita asked him.

But he acted as if it were nothing, because he also knew how Mamita was, that she lived to fight with him and that what you like, Noel, is booze, not even ipecacuanha does you any damage any more, and one day I’m going to fuck off with the kids (and she did because one St Anthony’s Day she went from Los Puertos to the El Consejo de Ziruma, alone and on foot, like St Ignatius). That’s why Papá Noel didn’t want to tell her anything, because she was very industrious and everything had been lost: the fique to make sandals from, the cheese and the bijao leaves, and even two macaques he had caught in Encontrados for the boys. But Mamita had had enough and grabbed the paper and read it.

“And you’re going to stay so calm, Noel! Jeez, you’ve got some nerve! The canoe sinks on us and you’re so calm! Now what are you going to put in the shop?”

And Papá Noel, who not for nothing was called “The Philosopher” in Los Puertos, said unfazed:

“Aha and what do you want, Eleuteria! I’m not going to get in the water to look for the bits and pieces. What’s lost is lost… ”.

2. Papá Noel’s grocery shop was once set on fire and the neighbours went running to throw water on it first and to warn him about it after. Some arrived at the house almost out of breath: Noel, your shop is burning down, run, my son, run. Then the Prefect arrived in “Little Red” (which was both the only ambulance and the only car in Los Puertos) and started to deal blows to the rubberneckers who weren’t helping to put out the fire. Papá Noel, who watched fascinated as the flames ran about the shack, was one of the first to feel a slug in the ribs.

“Don’t hit that man, sir. He’s the owner, see”.

“Really, you’re the owner of the shop and you’re standing there watching so calmly?”

And Papá Noel, who knew very well that all that exists is fire and that the real nature of things is that which is hidden, replied to him shrugging his shoulders, his small blue eyes red from the smoke, and with an enigmatic smile:

“Aha, and what can I do. Everything is burnt”.

3. Papá Noel also knew that the way up and the way down are one and the same. He had an interesting syllogism. He would say: if things have a solution, why worry about them? And if things don’t have a solution, why worry about them? For that reason, he died aged 95, and that was because he wanted to, because one day he lay down in his hammock and said: Well…I won’t stop here any longer.

Little Light Houses by Saúl Figueredo

The best thing about running this site is the opportunity to get to know and share the work of promising new writers from Venezuela. One such young talent is Saúl Figueredo (Caracas, 1995). At just 18 years old, this aspiring writer and sociology student at UCV shows impressive maturity in his short stories, like Casitas de luces, a fantastical evocation of the contradictions of Caracas.

VERSIÓN EN CASTELLANO ABAJO.

Little light houses 

The boy watched the thousands of yellow and white lights (which seemed more blue than white) in the distance with astonishment and admiration. From the balcony of his house, he would linger every night watching the beautiful far-off lights in the easternmost part of the city. In the jumbled lights of the mountain he saw what the polluted sky couldn’t give him, he saw stars, enormous and disordered constellations that shaped for his young mind what a galaxy ought to be. The night lights gave him the feeling that the Earth and space were mixed and that, in that moment, although distant, he could go to other worlds and explore the universe. The lights also brought him the wonder of Christmas, where everything is sparkle and shine, everything is beautiful and his childish innocence can flourish: the lights on the mountain remind him of a giant Christmas tree.

The foreigner who arrived by plane in this unknown land for the first time was also left spellbound by the spectacle of the lights that greeted him. He didn’t know much about this place, didn’t share the language nor know much about the history. He had been sent for work reasons to meet the managers of a company who were still based there. The man knew from general knowledge (and also something of prejudice) that it was a place with great poverty and quite a marked distinction between classes. He had been warned, moreover, about the levels of insecurity, so the foreigner couldn’t help feeling a little scared about his work mission. But looking out of the window, he didn’t notice any of this, he only saw the lights that welcomed him warmly, lights which could in no way harm him. He was met by a driver sent by the company, who had to take him without delay to the hotel where he would be staying. Ten minutes into the journey and tiredness was gaining ground. Along the mountain motorways he could make out some of the lights and admired them through half-open eyes. He let himself be wrapped up in those magical lights, without thinking about their real nature. The foreigner, who arrived at night exhausted, could not imagine that the lights were really city sirens, that at night and from afar they were enchanting but that within them there could be enough horror for a lifetime.

It had finally arrived, it was finally 31st December, the most eagerly anticipated night for the boy on the balcony. He knew that many families would go up to the high points with good views to admire the fireworks and the city lights, but he didn’t need to move. His house was on one of the highest hillsides in the city, he lived in a luxurious mansion, fruit of his parents’ labour, from where you could see the whole city, all the lights and all the fireworks. Every New Year’s Eve, his whole family would get together in the house, eat, some would get drunk, some danced, and as midnight approached, all of them, with a glass of champagne in hand, would gather on the balcony to watch the fireworks and set off some of their own. His mother always bothered him to play with the other children who came to the house for the occasion, mainly annoying cousins who always wanted to do something that he didn’t want to do. They loved to run around and play hide and seek, but he wasn’t very good at these games, he wasn’t very fast and, despite being skilled at hiding, if too much time passed without him being found he would get scared and come out of his cave, and in that exact moment would be spotted and lose the game. He was aware that he was a strange boy, he was clever enough to notice that there were few people who shared his interests and lots of people who shared interests in things that seemed tedious to him. For that reason he decided not to obey his mother any longer and let his cousins play on their own, on the condition that they left him in peace while he, sitting out on the balcony, contemplated the universe of the city lights.

The foreigner woke up to the voice of the driver advising him that they had arrived at the hotel. He was a bit disconcerted, as if he didn’t quite know where he was, and slightly worried about not having paid attention to the way there, but because he was so tired he decided to go straight to bed and tomorrow he would ask the driver to give him a little tour. When he got to his room, the first thing he did was completely empty his suitcase. He hadn’t brought very much, nor anything particularly important. He put the clothes in the closet. He had brought three books with him, which he put on a shelf. He placed his computer on the desk and his toiletries went in the bathroom. Although he didn’t take more than ten minutes doing this, because of his previous tiredness, it felt like a titanic task from which he emerged completely exhausted. He threw himself onto the bed and immediately fell down the rabbit hole. He dreamed that he was driving a very small spaceship, with barely enough space for two people, but there was nobody in the seat next to him. He flew around seeing infinite stars on all sides, which amazed him intensely. He saw planets of different shapes, different colours and sizes, and all the while the stars around him didn’t stop, there seemed to be more and more. He then entered one of these planets, which was green and blue like his own, but he knew that it wasn’t his, it was much bigger. He passed through unending forests and seas that he crossed in just seconds in his spaceship while more and more stars appeared around him, increasingly close. He entered a colossal sea that seemed to have no end, he saw hundreds of sea-creatures which he knew did not exist in his world and it was there that he heard the beautiful singing. The sublime voice of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, she called to him, while the stars drew nearer, he got out of his spaceship and walked without difficulty through the water, while the stars drew nearer, the woman came closer and closer, soon he would be able to grasp her, soon he would have her, the stars burned them, but he didn’t feel it, as he was completely bewitched by love. He touched her, embraced her, and she played along, still singing, now in his ear, soon she told him to kiss her and he obeyed her request without delay. The moment of the kiss was sublime, he felt like a being beyond time, lord of the cosmos, creator of infinite labyrinths and father of the stars, which were now so close that they embraced him. The moment was an eternal second, and it was enough not to notice or care what happened next. The woman was slowly devouring him without him realising, until she swallowed him completely, and the stars, now part of them, consumed her and him inside her, leaving nothing apart from the blazing light and infernal heat of the nearby star. Now it was him inside of her inside of the star. He woke up bewildered and at that very moment the telephone rang, his driver calling.

Finally it was the moment, the boy was at the front, leaning on the railings of the balcony, witnessing the beauty of the fireworks and the lights. Fireworks of all colours and shapes that exploded making booming sounds that filled him with wonder. The city was slowly filling with a dense fog caused by the smoke from the rockets and at this point, because of the noises and the lights that appeared behind the curtain of mist, the boy imagined that the city was being invaded, that we found ourselves at war and that the invaders had taken advantage of the New Year’s Eve celebrations to catch us unawares. This game distracted him a long while, but then he returned to simply contemplating the whole spectacle, a collective show that the whole universe participated in, when from the lights of the mountain galaxy to the East, to the other extreme where there was another galaxy, passing by the centre (which was his city), everyone agreed to launch fireworks and pay homage to the stars trying to imitate their brightness and colour. The child slept with a feeling of peace and happiness that few things could afford him. You could not say the same about when he woke up. When the morning of 1st January arrived, the boy was filled with despair because he would have to wait a whole year for his favourite night and a year for a boy is little short of infinity. The day, moreover, brought him back to reality, during the day the Earth wasn’t mixed with space, as there was a large layer of blue in the way. During the day the far away land of the lights disappeared and coloured houses with zinc roofs appeared, he didn’t know how this happened, but somehow the transition from day to night transformed everything. During the day, his father constantly warned him about these little brick houses, telling him about how dangerous they were. He was told (not only by his father) that there people robbed, kidnapped and killed, among other things. Words that weren’t meant for the ears of a child, but which were sadly part of his reality and he had to know them to be able to avoid them. That’s what the day brought; it brought reality, cold and cruel reality.

The driver would come to collect him in an hour and a half, so he had time to have breakfast and read a little. When the waiter came to take his order, he brought him the local paper, of which the foreigner didn’t understand one word, but before he could give it back, he saw an image which caught his eye. The front page showed a panoramic photo of the city which included the barrios of lights, all bathed in fireworks. The story was from a few days ago, from New Year’s Eve. He asked the waiter to please tell him what the article said and in mangled English the waiter translated the title for him: “More than 40 deaths on New Year’s Eve”. The foreigner was horrified and couldn’t finish his breakfast. The driver came to get him, he spoke good English, the company had made sure that they could communicate, the foreigner asked him about the news and the driver replied in a humdrum way that that is the reality of the country. They did a tour of the best parts of the city. They passed through the commercial zones where the best shops and the best restaurants were to be found. They passed by parks and handsomely made squares in which it would be nice to sit and read or simply think and contemplate this beautiful part of the city. At lunchtime the driver took him to one of the most famous restaurants in the city and as he didn’t have any other friend here the foreigner invited the driver to eat with him. They spoke about a little of everything, about football, as they were both fanatics, each one telling anecdotes of football victories and defeats from his own country, then they moved on to politics and the driver told him about the current situation in the country and the horrified foreigner compared it with that of his own home. On the journey back, the foreigner asked about the famous neighbourhoods which boasted the beautiful lights that had even managed to invade his dreams. The driver laughed when he heard this and replied that it was better to avoid them. They stopped at a red light, everything was over so quickly, he doesn’t know when or how the driver ended up with a bullet in the head, surely from the driver who had been in front. In the blink of an eye two men grabbed him and dragged him roughly towards somewhere, he didn’t put up resistance, he simply didn’t know what was going on, everything was over so quickly, they put something over his head and everything went dark.

Back in his bubble, the boy read quietly in his house. At around six o’clock his father, very shaken, goes straight to the kitchen to make tea and call his wife. He tells her that he witnessed, in broad daylight and in the middle of León Avenue, an assassination and a kidnapping, just two cars ahead of him. He stammers something about how this country is going to hell and other things that the boy could not make out and turns on the television which is showing the same thing it shows every day, people moaning about their living conditions, a news report about some assassination, a report about the kidnapping of some foreigner and his embassy’s indignation, the allegations of corruption against the government by an opposing group, and the allegations by the government against the opposing group. All these television programmes, that clearly no child should have to watch, made the boy sick, didn’t let him read and caused him a terrible anxiety as well as an internal humming which he couldn’t explain, but his father seemed immune to this. Every time that he asked him to please turn off the television or change the channel, his father replied that he was still a child and didn’t understand anything about what was happening. Then the boy would silently start his nightly ritual, escaping onto the balcony and watching how his whole reality slowly melted away and formed a continuous landscape with the rest of the cosmos, on the horizon he could see everything that was, is and will be. He saw the lights and knew that they had nothing to do with the little coloured houses with concrete and zinc roofs in which so many atrocious crimes occurred. The sound of the TV would fade little by little until it disappeared and nothing was left from this sick and evil world, just him and the lights of the universe.

The foreigner awoke with a start. He found himself on the roof of a house just like all the others that made up a sea of homogeneous houses on a hill that lost all of its green years ago. It seemed ironic to him that in his direct eye line, not very far away, he could see a complex of luxury buildings surrounded by a high wall and strong security. This wall was the only thing that separated the two sides of the coin, bordering each other. Next to him were four men who looked at him with unparalleled hatred and he asked himself why they hated him if he had never seen them before, if he wasn’t even from this country and didn’t know them, if he had done nothing to them. The men hadn’t bothered to put on masks and each one had a gun in hand. They started to ask him questions, of which he didn’t understand a single one, he tried to explain to them in some way that he didn’t speak their language and they seemed to understand him, as one of them went down and quickly returned with a fifth man, who looked much better. The fifth man was now the one who spoke to him and only he spoke. He spoke English fluently, which for some reason didn’t surprise the foreigner. He started by explaining the situation to him, he found himself in one of the most dangerous barrios in the country, which he would not get out of unless he cooperated. The man seemed to know everything about him, his name, his personal details, his country of origin and even information about his family far from here. He held a telephone up to him and asked him to ring his family back home, once he had done that he would need to ask them to transfer a certain number of dollars to a bank account, they would have only twelve hours to do so or they would kill him. The foreigner knew that the amount was little short of impossible. Night fell, the sun stopped lighting the orange mountain and slowly all of the lightbulbs were turned on revealing those white and yellow lights that once filled him with wonder. There were only two hours left until the established time limit ran out, two hours to see if he would die, he felt strangely calm. A few houses below, they were having a party and the typical music of the region mixed with shouts and laughs, now and then shots could be heard that didn’t seem to have an owner, nor origin, nor destination. Despite everything, his captors had not treated him badly, they were professional, they had brought him food and had untied him as they knew he wasn’t going anywhere. As the hour drew nearer, he asked the fifth man for a cigarette and asked him, given that he was only one who spoke English (and the only one not to show hatred on his face), to sit and chat with him for a while. The man agreed. They spoke about football and politics in which the man was strangely opposed to the current regime too. Soon fireworks started to explode, surely those left over from the 31st. The foreigner observed the beauty of the lights serenely while he smoked his cigarette and chatted with his captor.

The boy was still contemplating the lights, removed from every reality of his life, removed from the day and everything it brought with it, he was somewhere else, in his own world in which words like assassination or kidnapping didn’t exist, he was in the world that every boy should grow up in. He stayed there all night, playing and imagining fantastical situations of his own creations which came to life in this world, in the universe of lights. He didn’t know when he fell asleep, but he felt his father’s arms picking him up and tenderly carrying him to bed. He was neither asleep nor awake, but in that limbo where we are not part of either world, or rather we are part of both. With his eyes half open, he watched his father’s silhouette and listened to the hum of the conversation he was having with his mother. He couldn’t make out most of the conversation as this limbo lets us hear but not understand. Slowly images from a new dream came to him, a fantastical dream in which he was driving a ship that would take him to the sun and the moon. He could only glean one thing from the hum: “A foreigner has died”.

             ******************************************************

Casitas de luces

El niño miraba con asombro y admiración, a lo lejos, las miles de luces blancas (que llegan a parecer más azules que blancas) y amarillas. Desde la terraza de su casa, todas las noches se detenía para observar a las hermosas luces lejanas en la parte más al este de su ciudad. En las luces arrejuntadas de la montaña veía lo que el cielo por la contaminación no podía darle, veía estrellas, constelaciones enormes y desordenadas que conformaban lo que para su joven mente tendría que ser una galaxia. Las luces de la noche le otorgaban la sensación de que la tierra y el espacio se mezclaban y que en ese momento, aunque lejos, él podría ir a otros mundos y explorar el universo. Las luces también le traían lo maravilloso de la navidad, donde todo es adorno y luces, todo es hermoso y su inocencia infantil florece; las luces de la montaña le recordaban a un gigante árbol de navidad.

El extranjero que llegaba desde el avión por primera vez a esta tierra desconocida también quedó maravillado con el espectáculo de luces que lo recibía. No sabía mucho de este lugar, no compartía el idioma, ni sabía mucho de su historia. Lo habían mandado por cuestiones de trabajo a que se reuniera con los dirigentes de una corporación cuya sede aún se encontraba acá. El hombre sabía, por cultura general (y también algo de prejuicio) que era un lugar con una gran pobreza, y con una distinción de clases bastante marcada, le habían advertido, además, de los índices de inseguridad, por lo que el extranjero no pudo evitar sentir un poco de miedo por su misión laboral. Pero por la ventana del avión no reparaba en nada de eso, solo veía las luces que cálidamente lo recibían, luces que de ninguna forma podrían hacerle daño. Lo recibió un chofer enviado por la corporación, que debía, sin detenerse, llevarlo al hotel de su hospedaje. Diez minutos de trayecto y el sueño fue ganando territorio. Por el camino de carreteras montañosas divisaba algunas de las luces y, con ojos entreabiertos, las admiraba. Se dejaba embelesar por las maravillosas luces sin pensar en su verdadera naturaleza. El extranjero, que llegaba fatigado de noche, no se imaginaba que las luces en realidad eran sirenas citadinas, que de noche y a lo lejos maravillaban, pero que en su interior habría suficiente terror para una vida.

Finalmente habría llegado, era finalmente 31 de diciembre, la noche más esperada del año para el niño de la terraza. Sabía que muchas familias se trasladaban a lugares altos y con buena vista para admirar los fuegos artificiales y las luces de la ciudad, él no tenía que trasladarse. Su casa se encontraba en una de las más altas lomas de la ciudad, vivía en una lujosa quinta de gran tamaño fruto del trabajo de sus padres, desde allí se veía toda la ciudad, todas las luces y todos los fuegos. Cada víspera de año nuevo su familia entera se reunía en su casa, comían, algunos se emborrachaban, algunos bailaban, y al acercarse la medianoche, todos, con copa de champán en mano, se arrejuntaban en la terraza a ver los fuegos y a lanzar unos propios. Su madre siempre lo fastidiaba para que jugara con los demás niños que venían a su casa en la ocasión, primos fastidiosos en su mayoría que siempre querían hacer algo que él no quería. Les encantaba correr y jugar al escondite y a la ere, pero él no era muy bueno en estos juegos, no era muy rápido y a pesar de que era hábil para esconderse, si pasaba mucho tiempo sin que lo descubrieran se asustaba y salía de su cueva, momento en el cual los demás lo divisaban y perdía el juego. Estaba consciente de que era un chico peculiar, pues por su inteligencia había notado que muy pocos eran los que compartían sus intereses y muchos eran los que compartían interés por cosas que le parecían tediosas. Por esta razón el decidió no acatar más a su madre y dejar que sus primos jugasen solos con la condición que lo dejaran en paz mientras él, sentado en su terraza, contemplaba el universo de las estrellas citadinas.

El extranjero se despertó con la voz de su chofer que le indicaba que ya habían llegado al hotel. Estaba un poco desconcertado, como si no supiese bien en donde se encontraba, y estaba un poco preocupado por no haberle prestado atención al camino, pero por su cansancio  decidió que llegaría directo a la cama y mañana le pediría al chofer que le diese un pequeño tour. Al llegar a su cuarto, lo primero que hizo fue vaciar por completo su maleta. No había traído mucho, ni nada muy importante, la ropa la puso en el closet, trajo consigo unos tres libros que puso en una repisa, su computadora la colocó en el escritorio y los instrumentos de higiene que fueron puestos en el baño. A pesar de que no tardó ni diez minutos haciendo esto, pareció por su cansancio previo, una tarea titánica de la cual salió completamente extenuado. Se tiró a la cama e inmediatamente cayó en la madriguera. Soñó que manejaba una nave espacial muy pequeña, de capacidad para apenas dos personas, pero en el asiento de al lado no había nadie. Volaba viendo infinitas estrellas en toda su periferia que lo asombraban inmensamente. Vio planetas de distintas formas, de distintos colores y proporciones y, mientras tanto, las estrellas a su alrededor no cesaban, cada vez parecían haber más. Luego entró en uno de esos planetas, era verde y azul como el suyo, pero sabía que no era el suyo, era mucho más grande. Paseó por interminables bosques y mares que recorría en apenas segundos en su nave  mientras que más y más estrellas aparecían a su entorno, cada vez más cerca. Entró en un mar colosal que no parecía tener fin, vio un centenar de criaturas marítimas que sabía que en su mundo no existían y fue allí que escuchó el hermoso cantar. Una voz sublime de la mujer más bella que había visto, lo llamaba, mientras que las estrellas se acercaban, salió de su nave y caminó por el agua sin dificultades, mientras que las estrellas se acercaban, la mujer cada vez más cerca, pronto la podría agarrar, pronto la podría tener, las estrellas lo quemaban, pero él no lo sentía, pues estaba completamente hechizado por el amor. La tocó, la abrazó y ella le seguía el juego mientras que le seguía cantando, ahora en el oído, pronto le dijo que la besara y acató sin vacilar a la petición. El momento del beso fue sublime, se sintió como un ser atemporal, dueño del cosmos, creador de laberintos infinitos y padre de las estrellas que ya estaban tan cerca que lo abrazaban. Ese momento de un segundo fue eterno, y fue suficiente para no reparar ni darle importancia a lo que pasó después. La mujer lentamente lo fue devorando sin que se diera cuenta, hasta que lo engulló por completo y las estrellas, ya parte de ellos, la consumió a ella y a él adentro de ella, dejando nada salvo la resplandeciente luz y calidez infernal de la estrella cercana. Ahora era él adentro de ella, adentro de la estrella. Se despertó perplejo y ahí mismo sonó el teléfono, una llamada de su chofer.

Finalmente era el momento, el niño se encontraba de primero apoyado en la baranda de su terraza, presenciado la belleza de los juegos de fuegos y luces. Fuegos de todos los colores y formas que explotaban creando sonidos retumbantes que lo maravillaban. Lentamente la ciudad se iba llenando de una neblina espesa propiciado por el humo de los cohetes y en este punto el niño por los sonidos y las luces que aparecían detrás de la cortina de neblina, imaginaba que la ciudad estaba siendo invadida, que nos encontrábamos en una guerra y que los invasores habían aprovechado la fiesta del año nuevo para agarrarnos desprevenidos. Este juego lo distraía un buen rato, pero luego volvía a simplemente contemplar todo el espectáculo, un show colectivo en el que participaba todo el universo, cuando desde las luces de la galaxia montañosa del este hasta el otro extremo en el que había otra galaxia, pasando por el centro (que era su ciudad), todos se ponían de acuerdo para lanzar fuegos artificiales y hacerle homenaje a las estrellas intentando imitar su luminosidad y colorido. El niño se dormía con una sensación de paz y felicidad que pocas cosas eran capaz de brindarle. No se podía decir lo mismo de su despertar. Al llegar el día del primero de enero, el niño se desesperaba pues tendría que esperar todo un año para su noche favorita y un año para un niño es poco menos que una infinidad. El día, además, lo traía de vuelta a la realidad, en el día ya no se encontraba mezclada la tierra con el espacio, pues había una gran capa de azul en el camino. En el día desaparecía el mundo lejano de las luces y aparecían casitas de colores y techos de zinc, no sabía como ocurría esto, pero de alguna forma la transición día-noche transformaba todo. En el día, su padre le advertía constantemente sobre estas casitas de ladrillos, hablándole sobre su peligrosidad. Le decían (no solo su padre), que allí se robaba, se secuestraba y se mataba, entre otras cosas. Palabras no hechas para el oído de un niño, pero que infelizmente eran parte de su realidad y tenía que conocerlas para poder evitarlas. Eso traía el día, traía realidad, fría y cruda realidad.

El chofer lo vendría a buscar en una hora y media, por lo que tenía tiempo para desayunar y leer un poco. El mesonero al anotar su pedido le trajo el periódico local, del cual el extranjero no entendía ni una palabra, pero antes de poder devolverlo, vio una imagen que le llamó la atención. La primera plana mostraba una foto de una gran panorámica de la ciudad en la que se incluían los barrios de luces, toda bañada de fuegos artificiales. Era de hace unos días la noticia, de la víspera de año nuevo. Le pidió al mesonero que por favor le dijera que decía la noticia y en un inglés machucado el mesonero pudo traducirle el título. “Más de 40 muertos en la víspera de año nuevo”. El extranjero quedó horrorizado y no pudo terminar el desayuno. El chofer lo pasó buscando, hablaba bien inglés, pues la corporación se había asegurado de que se pudiesen comunicar, el extranjero le preguntó sobre la noticia y el chofer le respondió con un aire rutinario que esa es la realidad del país. Dieron un tour por las mejores zonas de la ciudad. Pasaron por zonas comerciales en las que se encuentran las mejores tiendas y los mejores restaurantes. Pasaron por parques y plazas hermosamente hechas en las cuales daría gusto sentarse a leer o a simplemente pensar y contemplar esta bella parte de la ciudad. A la hora de almuerzo el chofer lo llevó a uno de los más famosos restaurantes de la ciudad y por no tener a ningún otro amigo acá el extranjero lo invitó a que comiera junto a él. Hablaron de todo un poco, de fútbol, pues ambos eran fanáticos, cada uno contando las anécdotas, victorias y derrotas del fútbol de su país, luego pasaron a hablar sobre política en las cuales el chofer le contaba de la situación actual del país y el extranjero horrorizado la comparaba con la de su propia patria. En el trayecto de vuelta, el extranjero preguntó por los famosos barrios que contaban con las hermosas luces que lograron hasta invadir sus sueños. El chofer rió al escuchar esto y le respondió que lo mejor es evitarlos. Pararon por un semáforo en rojo, todo acabó rápidamente, no sabe cuando ni como el chofer terminó con una bala en la cabeza, propiciada seguramente por el motorizado que había estado en frente. En un abrir y cerrar de ojos dos hombres lo sujetaban y lo arrastraban con brusquedad hacia algún lugar, él no puso resistencia, simplemente no sabía que ocurría, todo acabó rápidamente, le pusieron algo en la cabeza y todo fue oscuridad.

De vuelta a su burbuja, el niño en su casa leía tranquilamente. Por eso de las seis llega su padre muy agitado, directamente a la cocina en donde se prepara un té y llama a su mujer. Le cuenta que ha presenciado en pleno día y en el medio de la avenida León un asesinato y un secuestro, apenas dos carros delante de él. Balbucea algo de cómo este país se está yendo al carajo y otras cosas que el niño no llegó a escuchar y enciende la tele que mostraba lo mismo que todos los días, gente quejándose de las condiciones en que vive, una noticia sobre algún asesinato, una noticia sobre el secuestro de algún extranjero y la molestia de su embajada, las alegaciones de corrupción en contra del gobierno por parte de un grupo opositor y las alegaciones del gobierno contra el grupo opositor. Al niño le enfermaban todos esos programas televisivos, que claramente ningún niño debería ver, no lo dejaban leer y le causaban una terrible angustia además de un zumbido interno que no se explicaba, pero su padre parecía inmune a eso. Cada vez que le decía que por favor apagara la tele o cambiara el canal, su padre le contestaba que él aún era un niño y no entendía nada de lo que pasaba. Entonces el niño empezaba silente su ritual de todas las noches, se escapaba a su terraza y veía como lentamente se fundía toda su realidad y formaba un solo continuo paisaje con el resto del cosmos, en el horizonte podía ver todo lo que fue, es y será. Veía las luces y sabía que esas no tenían nada que ver con las casitas de colores y techos de zinc y concreto en las que ocurrían tan atroces crímenes. El sonido de la tele se iba poco a poco desvaneciendo hasta que desaparecía y de ese mundo enfermo y malévolo ya no quedaba nada, sólo quedaban él y las luces del universo.

El extranjero se despertó con un golpe. Se encontraba en el techo de una casa igual a todas las demás que conformaban un mar de casas homogéneas en un cerro que perdió todo el verde hace años. Irónico le pareció que directamente en la línea de su visual, no muy lejos, podía ver una urbanización de lujosos edificios rodeados de una pared alta y con una seguridad fuerte. Esta pared era lo único que separaba a las dos caras de la moneda, limítrofes entre sí. Junto a él se encontraban cuatro hombres que lo miraban con una cara de odio sin igual y se preguntó por qué lo odiaban si nunca lo habían visto antes, si él ni siquiera era de esta país ni los conocía, si él no les había hecho nada. Los hombres no se habían molestado en ponerse máscaras y cada uno tenía una pieza en la mano. Le comenzaron a hacer preguntas, de las cuáles él no entendió ninguna, intentó de alguna manera explicarles que no hablaba su idioma y estos parecieron entenderle, pues uno de ellos bajó y regresó rápidamente con un quinto hombre, éste de mucho mejor aspecto. El quinto hombre era ahora el que le hablaba y solamente él dirigía la palabra. Tenía un manejo fluido del inglés, lo cual por alguna razón no sorprendió al extranjero. Empezó por explicarle su situación, se encontraba en uno de los barrios más peligrosos del país, del cual no saldría a menos que cooperara. El hombre parecía conocer todo sobre él, su nombre, sus datos, el país de su procedencia e incluso datos sobre su familia lejos de acá. Le acercó un teléfono y le pidió que llamara a su familia en el extranjero, una vez hecho esto tendría que pedirles que le transfirieran a un número de cuenta una cierta cantidad de dólares, tendrían apenas doce horas para hacerlo o lo matarían, el extranjero sabía que el monto era poco menos que imposible. Cayó la noche, la luz del sol dejó de iluminar a la montaña naranja y lentamente se fueron prendiendo todos los bombillos que revelaban las luces blancas y amarillas que una vez lo maravillaron. Faltaban apenas dos horas para que el plazo establecido culminara, dos horas para ver si moriría, extrañamente sintió una gran tranquilidad. Algunas casas más abajo una fiesta tenía lugar y la música típica del lugar se mezclaba entre gritos y risas, de vez en cuando se escuchaban disparos que no parecían ni tener dueño, ni origen, ni destino. Sus captores a pesar de todo no lo habían tratado tan mal, eran profesionales, le habían traído comida y lo habían desamarrado ya que sabían que no iría a ningún lado. Al acercarse la hora, le pidió un cigarro al quinto hombre y le pidió que, en vista de que era el único que hablaba inglés (y el único que no mostraba odio en su cara) se sentara a charlar con él un rato, el hombre accedió. Hablaron de fútbol y de política en la que el hombre extrañamente también estaba en contra del régimen actual. De pronto comenzaron a estallar fuegos artificiales, seguramente de los que habrían sobrado de la noche del 31, el extranjero observó con serenidad la belleza de las luces mientras se fumaba el cigarro y charlaba con su captor.

El niño seguía contemplando las luces, alejado de toda la realidad de su vida, alejado del día y de todo lo que traía consigo, se encontraba en otro lugar, en su propio mundo en el que no existían palabras como asesinato o secuestro, se encontraba en el mundo en el que todo niño debería crecer. Allí permaneció toda la noche, jugando e imaginando situaciones fantásticas de creaciones propias que tomaban vida en este mundo, en el universo de las luces. No supo el momento en el que cayó dormido, pero sintió los brazos de su padre que lo cargaban y lo llevaban con ternura hacia su cama. No estaba ni dormido ni despierto, se encontraba en ese limbo en el que no somos parte de ninguno de los dos mundos, o mejor dicho en el que somos parte de los dos. Con los ojos abiertos a medias, observaba la silueta de su padre, y con los oídos escuchaba el zumbido de la conversación que tenía con su madre. No pudo entender casi nada de dicha conversación ya que este limbo nos permite escuchar, pero no nos dota con la habilidad de comprender, lentamente se le venían las imágenes de un sueño nuevo, un  sueño fantástico en el que se encontraba piloteando una nave que lo llevaría a la luna y al sol. Solo pudo recopilar del zumbido una cosa. <<Un extranjero ha muerto>>.

Los Jardines de Salomón

jardines de salomon

Ser admirador es adorar, crear fetiches de cada objeto, leer con la meticulosidad del amante que relee una carta de su pareja.

To be a fan is to worship, to turn each object into a fetish, to read as meticulously as a lover rereading a letter from a partner.

Obsession is the theme running through Liliana Lara’s first collection of short stories, Los Jardines de Salomón (Universidad de Oriente, 2008). From Ernest Hemingway and the French language to spanking or Nina Hagen performing almost naked on Miss Venezuela, the obsessions of children, teenagers, teachers and bored business men are brought to life through Liliana’s intimate and confessional writing style, creating an intense and utterly engrossing collection. 

For foreign readers, Los Jardines de Salomón is also a wonderful geography lesson, portraying parts of Venezuela rarely seen in contemporary literature, like Cumaná, Catia and Maturín. These lesser-known cities chime with the every day dramas depicted in the stories, providing a refreshing change to the tales of Caracas violence that so often reach international readers.

Prizes

Premio Bienal Literaria José Antonio Ramos Sucre, 2008. The judges said:

‘Las interesantes anécdotas, los bien delimitados personajes y las excelentes ambientaciones están acompañadas de unos recursos estilísticos impecables’.

‘The interesting anecdotes, well-defined characters and excellent settings are accompanied by some impeccable stylistic devices’.

Watch Liliana’s reaction to winning the prize below.

Interviews

‘Liliana Lara: Una escritora marginal en el mundo’ – discussing Los Jardines de Salomón with Jacqueline Goldberg.

International versions

Sudaquía recently acquired the rights to Los Jardines de Salomón and will be publishing the book in the United States in 2014.

Translations

Nina Hagen’s Dog (El Perro de Nina Hagen)

Nina Hagen’s Dog by Liliana Lara

 For Christmas 2012, I received a very special present, a copy of Los Jardines de Salomón sent from Israel by Liliana Lara. I read the whole book in a day and instantly wanted to translate it. Liliana was kind enough to let me translate one of my favourite stories from that book, El Perro de Nina Hagen, and make it available here. You can read the original Spanish at TalCualDigital. Los Jardines de Salomón will soon be available to US readers via Sudaquia.

It was during the holidays of August 1985. My brother Guillermo and I raced in circles around the block, which had few houses and lots of greenery. We went around on bicycles, me on the red one, which was mine and the most beautiful. Him on the blue, which was Dad’s and about fifty years old. Not Dad, the bike. Dad, on the other hand, was young and thin – or at least that’s how I see him now in the orange-tinged photos in the family album – with a smile bigger than his face and very white teeth. He had bought that bike second hand, it was already old back then, but it was, in his words, a professional racing bike, an Ambrosio, an item for experts. That name didn’t mean much to us, beyond the obvious link with hunger. And when Guillermo’s green bike was stolen, Dad let him use his one, the Ambrosio, not even imagining that in that way the antique would meet its maker. So one hot afternoon in 1985 we raced the bikes around the block, in eternal circles, with no cars to get in our way and the neighbours’ dogs in unruly packs. It was that same afternoon when we heard the shot and I believe that in that very moment my brother made a decision.

Or perhaps he made the decision that night, after the shot, the ambulance and the crowds. The road suddenly filled with cars and sirens. The road which was in a leafy suburb, in the outskirts, in the middle of nowhere, far from the life and the noise of Maturín, which at that time was the most forgotten city in all of Venezuela, but for us it was the metropolis where the cinemas and ice-cream parlours were. But before the crowds arrived, the shot occurred. A shot that suddenly exploded and whose noise resounded in the mango bushes, ricocheted off the morichal trees, spread in waves across the savannah, fell on the dry leaves of the almond trees and spooked the bats that slept hidden in the treetops, but above all, shook my brother, who crashed to the floor, destroying the Ambrosio and sobbing with his mouth wide open. I, on the other hand, kept still, like a statue, and could see the sound, its waves in the air and my brother’s fall in slow motion. I think that afterwards there was a silence that settled above all the other noises, because I don’t remember my brother’s cry, only his wide-open mouth and his red face. I don’t remember Nicolás’ screams either, just how he came out of the Suárezes’ garden and ran to us and moved his arms like he was swatting flies. I thought my brother had died, but I didn’t see his blood. Then I thought “I must be the dead one”, but then I could move and hear the dogs’ silence.

That afternoon, Mum wasn’t in. She’d gone to visit our grandfather in the hospital and she didn’t want to take us. Later she would strongly regret not having been there, having returned so late, but that would be much later and more for “political” reasons, like that, in speech marks, than for sentimental or dramatic ones.  Our grandmother, who had not wanted to visit her husband as she ought, thought that it was the first thunder of a sudden storm, so typical in Maturín. So she carried on as if nothing had happened, reading The Sky’s the Limit, as always. She was also very careful not to forget that that night they would broadcast Miss Venezuela, and she had made some notes that she had stuck on the fridge, on the bathroom mirror, next to the TV, on the cover of The Sky’s the Limit, that’s to say, on all of the places that made up her world. Some notes on fluorescent yellow paper with careful palmer calligraphy in black which read “Today, at 7, mis Venezuela”.

And it was precisely that night, a little after seven, on Miss Venezuela, that we saw her for the first time. The presenter – it must have been Gilberto Correa, I don’t remember – announced in an exaggerated voice a German rock opera singer who had come to tour Latin America and was kind enough to include Caracas in her itinerary. A singer with great international fame, a goddess of the latest bel canto: Miss Nina Hagen. Then out came a cloud of pink smoke first and then that woman. My brother and I stared at the TV screen, momentarily removed from the events of the afternoon, while Grandma looked intermittently at the TV and the window. More at the window than at the TV. She couldn’t believe it, finally something different had happened in this bloody place and she’d missed it!

And she was missing it: through the window you could see a parade of people dressed in black entering and leaving the Suárez house. There were so many cars, some were even parked on Dad’s beloved lawn. The ambulance and police of the afternoon were followed by the cars of family friends in the evening. The road, which was narrow and full of potholes, could barely cope with such an avalanche and reached its limit when, out of nowhere, a luxurious car appeared, as long as a limousine. At that point Grandma couldn’t take any more and went out slamming the door. Meanwhile, on the TV, in the midst of the toxic pink smoke some arms like white wax started to appear, and some legs which to us seemed unending.

Nicolás had heard the shot first, or at least that’s what he said, as if shots could be heard in different fragments of time and were not a dry sound with a sequence of echoes, but in essence one sole sound. Like someone who sees an apparition first, Nicolás had heard first because he was in the Suárezes’ garden at that exact moment, we will never know what for. He heard the explosion and ran to the scene of events. The door to the house was closed, but not locked. He went in, crossed the living room full of dark wood furniture. He knew where he had to go, as he had been to Angelina’s parents’ bedroom many times, when they weren’t at home, of course. The Suárezes were the only ones who had a video player and many times, together with Angelina, we had watched “forbidden” films like Blue Lagoon. It was during the time when we thought that Brooke Shields was the queen of porn and that we had already seen all that there was to see. We couldn’t even imagine Nina Hagen on Miss Venezuela.

That day my brother thought that he had been shot. Just as he told me I don’t know how many years later, when we found each other again, that day Guillermo felt the shot at a point in his chest – a boom exactly at his heart – and fell to the ground, destroying the Ambrosio, Dad’s pride and joy. He was convinced that he was dead, even though he could cry and his tears fell like raindrops on the tarmac. And he also heard the silence and couldn’t hear himself scream, and saw me from the ground, petrified. Nicolás came running, howling inaudible words, waving his hands, his eyes wide. Suddenly, sound returned and we could hear him. Call the police, call the police, but by then it was too late. Angelina, who had seen everything, was hiding among the cayenne pepper plants in her garden. She didn’t cry, she didn’t speak, and she never spoke again, but as Grandma used to say, Angelina had already had a “fuse” in her head for a long time, perhaps since she was born. And then she would start telling thousands of stories about the Suárezes – who were a family “with an ancient lineage” -, stories that she spiced up with some details from telenovelas. If Mum recognised some TV storyline mixed in with her “true” stories, Grandma excused herself by saying that television was a faithful reflection of reality and that wasn’t her fault. Television is a school, she would note authoritatively and then she would add sadly that if television had existed in her day, she would not have been the fool that she was. A sentence that was indecipherable for us in those days.

And following Grandma’s advice, Dad sat us down in front of the TV that day. Let them watch TV as late as they want, let them watch the telenovela if they feel like it, anything to avoid having to explain, talk, listen to the story of the bath full of blood, the pistol in Angelina’s mother’s hand, the naked and cold body on the aquamarine tiles. When Nicolás entered the Suárezes’ bathroom he saw a dark lake and Angelina’s mother floating on it. Leaving aside the scolding for the destruction of his beloved Ambrosio bicycle, Dad went to see what was happening in the neighbouring house. Then he saw the minister nearby, but didn’t say anything to him, to Mum’s eternal chagrin.

I can’t help associating Angelina’s mother with Nina Hagen. I didn’t see that gloomy bathroom, but Nicolás’ account ensured that the image took form in my memory with the strength of images I had actually seen. And with the same force Nina Hagen entered our heads on the same day as the shot, but differently for each person. Sometimes, if I look back, I see the German woman in that bathtub in the suburbs of Maturín, singing the same song that she sung at the Miss Venezuela contest, with the same dog’s head between her legs.

That day or that night on which my brother became aware of the closeness of death and the fragility of life, he made a decision that separated him from the family, but it wasn’t until ten years later that he decided to pack up his things and leave. That night they sat us down in front of the TV, while outside the world fell upon the Suárezes. Police, journalists, neighbours, even the minister, and that’s where Mum regrets having arrived too late to shake his hand and ask him for help for Dad or whatever.

That shot showed us that we hadn’t seen all there was to see and then the TV made sure to confirm it. I think it was Gilberto Correa who lavished praise upon the German goddess that he still hadn’t seen, or had he seen her? What’s for certain is that nobody was expecting her and the extremely slender misses were terrified when that smoke dissipated and they saw those eyes overloaded with black which looked at them with desire. Nina, the diva, wore her breasts covered only with white chiffon and at her crotch was a large dog’s head with its tongue poking out. Nina, white like the milk of the beloved mother, licked the slim waists of those pristine models with her dog’s tongue. Nina, the singer or the pornstar, rejoiced in scandalising her neighbour and me and my brother.

There is a before and an after Nina Hagen and her dog in our lives. In my life, in my brother’s, in Nicolás’, and even in Angelina’s. The next day, we didn’t stop talking about Nina Hagen’s dog. Nicolás didn’t believe us because he hadn’t seen it, so we made sure to feed the image with all kinds of details in the same way that he had done with the scene of the death in the bathtub. It was a type of competition to see who had seen more, in which Nicolás was winning, of course.

After three days we were banned from talking about the subject (the bathtub, not Nina’s dog) and we were made to enter that house to show our respects to Angelina. She was pale, as was to be expected, but to our surprise she had not shed a single tear. Grandma said that this wasn’t surprising either: Until she speaks, she is not going to cry. Sometimes Grandma was wise, but she said that she owed this wisdom to her book, The Sky’s the Limit. She read that book attentively for at least the two years that she lived with us, taking notes in a blue notebook, writing quotes on luminous post-its, forcing us to listen to whole chapters after dinner. All the while Grandpa was dying in a metallic hospital bed. The day she finished her exhaustive and meticulous reading of The Sky’s the Limit, after Grandpa’s death, she threw the book against the wall and started to cry inconsolably. If this book had existed in my day, I would have gotten divorced straight away, she said.

On the fourth day, Dad remembered the loss of his bicycle. The mudguard looked like an accordion and it was impossible to find another one in such a small city. Besides, they didn’t make them any more. A peddle had come away from its base and lodged itself in a wheel. The bike looked like a jumble of metal, no matter how much Dad, hammer in hand, struggled to straighten it out. My brother was told off, but not that severely because after all the destruction of the bike had been the result of the most shocking thing ever to have happened in the neighbourhood.

After a week Mr Suárez decided to take Angelina out of the city. He sent her to live with an aunt and uncle in Caracas. He would put the house up for sale, and the furniture, the video player, the ranch, and the cars. They erased themselves from our lives, but the bathtub remained, blue and smelling of chlorine, cold and gloomy. Angelina, who hadn’t seen Nina Hagen, but had seen her mother, had confined herself to obstinate silence. Nicolás strove to get a word out of her before she left and brought her to our house one day like someone would bring a plastic doll. A mannequin that he dragged to our garden and deposited on our lawn after a great effort. Angelina was a wordless shell. She sat and looked at us through the deep and indifferent blue of her eyes. So my brother, following the rules, told her about the Hagen episode. At other times, she would have been delighted by the story, would have asked to hear it again, or she would simply not believe it and would want proof. But none of this happened, her deeply sad look just settled on our eyes to somehow make us feel so out of place. It was Nicolás’ idea, I told her, I didn’t think that you would like to hear the story. And she suddenly closed her eyes and spoke. She said that she was ok, that from then on she felt that she too had seen Nina Hagen and not her mother. Not Mum. She said this and returned to her silence. We felt as if the sky had fallen on our backs, a great weight that crushed us like cockroaches, a great sorrow.

A month after we were still talking about Nina Hagen’s dog. Nicolás started high school and grew up all of a sudden. We no longer saw him often and when we did see him he treated us with a kind of contempt. He had started to smoke and he insisted on denying Hagen’s existence. And as none of her albums were on sale in Maturín and the TV station had made sure to erase this dark page from its history, we had no way to prove that it was true, that she wore a dog between her legs, that the dog was a stuffed toy and that it had a very long and red tongue. That Nina Hagen was as real as that shot, as the black blood, as Angelina mute beneath the cayenne pepper plants. But it was better not to remind him of that scene, Grandma had advised us. For him Nina Hagen didn’t exist, but the bathtub did. And by denying it so much, he made us search and search through the gossip magazines that Grandma collected for a clue or a sign that would prove the existence of the German diva, but they were issues from before Miss Venezuela, so we never found anything. One day I asked my brother if what Nicolás was saying could be true, perhaps we had dreamed it, if even Angelina had accepted this image as an invention so as to not remember her mother. Because of that, a thousand years later when we found each other again, Guillermo was happy to see me in that German bar where they worshipped her and showed me every possible image of the diva.

There is a before and an after Nina and her dog in our lives. Nicolás, without saying anything to us, tried to find somebody who knew her, to listen to a song, to see a video, and that was how he reached Luis. Hagen wasn’t played on the radio, at least not on provincial stations, but Luis – who knew everything there was to know because he studied sociology in Caracas – knew her and brought that famous video and his first joint to a grown-up Nicolás. That’s how he found Nina, but not Angelina. He, who prided himself on being the first at everything, remembers her in that first video (of his life, not Nina’s) poking a tongue out of an orange mane, moving herself and the tongue like a snake. Black lips, black eyes, black nails, contrasting with her incredibly white bare skin.  The camera zoomed in on her face rapidly and then zoomed out just as fast, which gave a kind of psychedelic touch. Nicolás also looked for Angelina, in every, increasingly frequent, puff, in every telephone book, in every conversation with the neighbours, but he never heard anything more about her again. He never found her.

What happened to me after Nina Hagen? Apart from dreaming of her in that deadly bathtub, I think that what really had the most effect on me was what I saw later in my own house. A year later we finally stopped talking about Nina Hagen’s dog. Or rather, a year later Guillermo stopped talking about Nina Hagen’s dog. Or to say it in a clearer way: Nina Hagen’s dog was no longer in Guillermo’s mouth, but on his crotch. One hot and slow night Mum and Dad weren’t home – they had gone out dancing as they tended to do at that time -, Grandma was snoring loudly in front of the TV, and I had fallen asleep on the fake leather sofa, my face was sailing on a sea of sweat and drool. That night Guillermo shut himself in his room, got undressed, made himself up, put on Mum’s heels, put one of my teddy bears between his legs and danced. His body and his tongue like a snake. He sung and his voice was beautiful as always, that voice that broke Bohemian glass and misted our old piano teacher’s glasses. He danced and sung until he noticed my glance in the mirror. The heat had woken me up.

And once again that strange silence came over us. I remember him crying, this time with his mouth closed, but I don’t remember his sobbing because it was so silent. Then I realised that it wasn’t another one of his games, that this time it went a bit further than painting a black star over his eye like one of Kiss. I remember my static gaze in the mirror, once again still like a statue. I remember the fear and the enormity of the secret that I made myself keep. I remember the intensity of my brother’s newly debuted silence. From then on he remained as if covered by a transparent plastic raincoat that, although it let me see him, a little blurrily, didn’t let me get beyond the surface. All the connection between us suddenly broke, then he became another of those adult mysteries that we had always had to imagine or investigate. Turned into a mystery within himself, quiet and more and more distant, sometimes our looks would cross, over dinner or in the middle of one of Mum’s tellings-off that were becoming increasingly frequent as we grew up, and that something that we had always shared was still there. The day that Grandpa died, in the middle of the funeral parlour and with our eyes clouded with tears, we found each other and a silent agreement united us once again: I couldn’t ask him anything. He didn’t have to tell me or explain to me something that he himself couldn’t understand.

Years later, many years later, my brother left the house and we lost all contact with him. I then became the only child and the responsibility of suddenly aged parents fell to me. I always knew that his leaving had been decided on that day of the shot, the day he realised that death surrounds us and leaves us with permanent images. And just as you get used to absences, to death and to illness, the family carried on with life and with its gradual reduction. If at first Mum wondered about Guillermo’s whereabouts and even wanted to hire a detective with money that we didn’t have to uncover his path, after a while she started to say that he had gone to study abroad and believing her own lie, she could sleep peacefully. Mum’s lie spread through the family circle and the neighbours, so we lived without asking anything until a postcard, after more than a decade had passed, put his address into our hands: 18 Hauptstrasse, 10961 – Berlin. From then on, I was entrusted with the mission of travelling to look for him.

The family, now made up of only two people, unanimously decided to send its youngest member, being me, in search of the prodigal son or fugitive who had been roaming the world for more than ten years and ask him to return. To tell him that we love him, that Grandma and Mum had died in his absence. That Dad had remade the bicycle with parts that he had mail-ordered from Ambrosio’s headquarters in Italy, and though it doesn’t work it’s still a museum piece. That Nicolás exchanged his parents’ house for a few more lines of cocaine. That the earth swallowed Angelina for good. That Mr Suárez paid the people in the neighbourhood not to tell the bathtub story to the new occupants of his house and in that way he could finally sell it. Tell him about myself and a large etc. With this mission I left Venezuela for the first time. With this reasoning I turned up at the mythical address in a Berlin that scared me.

It wasn’t the address of a house, but a bar. They say that Nina Hagen often goes to this bar in Schoneberg, near the Heinrich Von Kleist Park, where they idolise her. The bar is full of her impersonators, men and women who get together every night to watch her videos and who dress like all the possible versions of Nina. They say that she also goes there from time to time, imitating herself. So among all the Ninas, reproduced as in millions of mirrors, there is one who is original, but nobody can tell her from her copies, so all the Ninas treat each other with respect and adore one another.

In this bar, my brother sings and sometimes repeats on stage that dance that he had practised with my teddy bear during the holidays of 1986, when nobody remembered the shot any more.

Bajo las hojas

portada-bajo-hojas_grande

Qué son las novelas, una gran mentira, un conjunto de intrigas, un despliegue de manipulaciones…

What are novels, a big lie, a set of intrigues, an unfurling of manipulations…

The first forty or so pages of Israel Centeno’s 400-page novel Bajo las hojas (Alfaguara, 2010) are a relatively straightforward, if self-reflexive, account of a middle-aged novelist, struggling to make it in Venezuela, who seizes the opportunity to run off to London – a city he had briefly enjoyed as a young man, 26 years earlier – with his young and beautiful mistress in tow. Then it all gets complicated. Julio turns out to be a pawn in a grander scheme involving his mistress, his son, his old revolutionary colleagues turned police officers, an Italian dancer, and a death-worshipping cult of psychologists. The narration constantly switches between these disparate but linked characters and a mysterious omniscient power, so the reader must continually ask who is speaking, or more specifically, who is writing, as one of the key themes of Bajo las hojas is that whoever controls the narrative controls reality. 

Bajo las hojas, then, is a challenging novel. For a start, it demands constant concentration and perseverance to follow the story and the web of intrigues it spins. As the name of the cult – Los argonautas jungianos de los últimos dias – illustrates, the novel is replete with erudite references to Greek myths and legends, psychology and religion, as well as British history, Latin American poetry and more. At the same time, Centeno experiments with many popular genres – mystery, fantasy, Gothic, suspense, crime and eroticism – using them to hook the reader but also subverting generic expectations. Some of the characters, like mystic Trompetino, can be frustrating to read at times (although that seems to be the point), while others, particularly Julio’s son Alberto are understatedly engaging. Those challenges are the very reason for reading Bajo las hojas – while its characters ponder the nature and power of literature, the novel itself seems to be a protest against both the ‘dumbing-down’ of literature and the use of narrative as a political tool, fighting instead for writing – and reading – as artistic and intellectually stimulating endeavours.

Moreover, as an English reader, it’s interesting to picture Venezuelan characters in familiar settings. As Centeno confirmed when I recently met him, his London, the London of the 1980s, complete with orgies in graveyards and squatting in Brixton that appear in flashbacks throughout Bajo las hojas, is one completely alien to me today, even while the places, the climate and even the smarmy estate agents are strikingly familiar. This time in London as a young man was clearly fundamental for Centeno, so Bajo las hojas is fascinating reading for anyone wanting to better understand the work of this prolific Venezuelan author.

Reviews/features

Review by J. L. Maldonado from Librería Sónica

Short film of Lucas Garcia París’ Nocturno

nocturno-final-printA short film adaptation of Lucas Garcia París’ story Nocturno from his 2009 collection PayBack (Edicciones Puntocero) is currently in production. The film, directed by María Almagro, tells the story of Sandoval, who struggles to distinguish his brutal drug and alcohol fuelled fantasies from the real world violence that surrounds him.

The film is crowdfunded and the makers still welcome donations, to be rewarded with DVDs, t-shirts, posters, books and eternal gratitude, depending on the amount given. They are also looking for volunteers to translate the subtitles. Find out more here.

The trailer looks amazing.

You can read the original story at Ficción Breve.

Trini by Omar Requena Medina

Born in Caracas in 1972, as a teenager Omar Requena Medina moved to Ocumare del Tuy, Estado Miranda, whose river and red-light district form the setting for this short story. Now resident in Chile, his first novel Los Días Iguales, was published by the Sistema Nacional de Imprentas del Estado Miranda in 2010. You can read an interview with Requena Medina here.

VERSIÓN EN CASTELLANO ABAJO.

TRINI

For Elena Méndez

Because every angel is terrible[1]. Not her. Half naked in the semi-darkness of the scruffy little room. The smell of recently blown-out candles coming from the small altar, covered with miniatures as fragile as her. Her allergic cough. Her curses at not being able to find the box of cigarettes. Fucking hell. The drowsiness that always overcame me when I stayed there. Lethargy, neglect. One thing was for sure, it was anxiety that brought me back to that corner of Aragüita.  A warped sense of refuge. With a little luck there would be a fight or a brief shoot-out courtesy of the local dealers. And to think that just a few kilometres away another world bustled, indifferent and complicit at the same time. If not, that’s what Carlitos said, and skinny Ribas, even Silvia. They were in love with the area and with Trini. She smoked elegantly, spiritedly, they would claim. She was sublime at the climax of that street play. That strange nature etc. “Trini, you made the guys in my group fall in love with you”, I reproached her. She laughed. Two amber points lit up in her eyes, which always seemed to look past me. At midday, her younger sister would arrive with chicken soup and arepas. She would also bring us the news of the latest settling of scores: who was dead, who were the killers; how many shots had been fired and where the bodies were found. Then, without either of them noticing, I would drink a shot of rum, neat, in honour of so much wasted, squandered life.

Every month she would prepare a spell for me with special herbs. We would go up to the river quite early. At the Cola de Caballo waterfall, I would tell her that I was Niño Mauricio, genius guardian of the harp’s true nature.  She would order me not to mess around with that stuff. Later, submerged in the cool water of the well, I would lick her breasts while she asked me for the nth time whether I would be able to take her out of the country with me. “If you leave Venezuela with me, you’ll have to forget about drug dealing and petty crime, my dear”, I replied jokingly. “I can read fortunes. I can see what’s hidden with my tobacco leaves. They’ll pay me for that. All over the world there are people who live in fear about their destiny. You said it yourself. Even you sometimes worry too much about what will come”.

But it wasn’t that easy, Trini. It never had been. It wasn’t a question of pounding the streets, far away, in that sad role of emigrant. Remember Miguelito: committed to that hospital in Madrid for nothing more than getting scared and hallucinating about a pool of blood that he found in entrance hall he cleaned each day. His burnt skin, his poet’s dark star, sunk him. Then he would recount the episode to me over and over again, high on weed. “Dirty bastards”, he would remember furiously. And he’d start on the story about how Africa would be reborn as the mother of the world. According to him, Europe and North America would be punished for their infinite selfishness; his Zulu, Fulfulde and Ashanti blood told him so.

When I brought Trini to him, he opened his eyes wide like a pervert and even dedicated a few verses to her. While he made her listen to Tom Jobim, he warned me: “Look, poet, that girl has the mark of Olofi. If I were you, I’d keep my eyes peeled, protect myself from the hunger of her body. From all of her hunger”. But what interest could I have in protecting myself from anything. What for. Instead, I treasured that closeness, which deep down was like always being on the edge of the unknown. There was something in Trini that joined her with other regions or orders. It was this something that spread drowsiness through my body. And so I would ask her, as she continued to look for her bloody cigarettes in the drawers: “Show me them, Trini… just for today”. She would take out one, two, three, five, seven jars with the tiny wrinkled bodies, minuscule  many with translucent skin. I remember one, bigger than the rest and, I swear, her tiny angel wings were starting to sprout.

**************************************

TRINI

A  Elena Méndez.

Porque todo ángel es terrible[1]. Ella no. A medio vestir en la penumbra del cuartucho desordenado. El olor a velas recién fenecidas llegando desde el pequeño altar, repleto de figuritas tan desleídas como ella. Su tos alérgica. Sus maldiciones por no poder encontrar la cajetilla de cigarros. Puta mierda. La modorra que me invadía siempre al quedarme allí. Sopor, dejadez. Lo cierto era que el agobio me hacía regresar a ese rincón de Aragüita. Una retorcida sensación de refugio. Con algo de suerte habría una pelea o una balacera breve, cortesía de los narcos del sector. Y pensar que a pocos kilómetros bullía otro mundo, indiferente y cómplice al mismo tiempo. Si no, que lo dijeran Carlitos, el flaco Ribas, incluso Silvia. Encantados con el barrio y con Trini. Fumaba con garbo, con duende, aseveraban. Sublime en el momento cumbre de la pieza de calle. Esa rara condición etérea. “Trini, me enamoraste a los muchachos del grupo”, le reprochaba.  Ella reía. Dos puntos de ámbar se le encendían en los ojos, que parecían mirar siempre más allá.  A mediodía, llegaba su hermana menor con caldo de gallina y arepas. Nos traía también la noticia de los últimos ajustes de cuentas: quiénes eran los muertos, quiénes los asesinos; cuántos tiros habían sido y dónde hallaron los cuerpos. Luego, sin que ninguna de las dos se diera cuenta, me daba un trago de ron seco en honor a tanta vida inútil, desperdiciada.

Cada mes me preparaba un ensalme con hierbas especiales. Subíamos al río bien temprano. En La Cola de Caballo, le decía que era yo Niño Mauricio, genio guardián de la naturaleza tuyera. Ella me ordenaba no jugar con eso. Después, sumergidos en el agua fría del pozo, lamía sus pechos mientras me preguntaba por enésima vez si sería capaz de llevarla conmigo fuera del país. “Si te vas de Venezuela conmigo, tendrías que olvidarte del jibareo y de otras vagabunderías, mijita”, le contestaba en broma. “Yo puedo leer la suerte. Con mis tabacos veo lo que está oculto. Me pagarán por eso. En todas partes del mundo, vive gente atormentada por lo que pueda ser su destino. Tú mismo lo has dicho. A ti mismo a veces te importa demasiado saber lo que vendrá”.

Pero no era tan fácil, Trini. No lo había sido nunca. No era el caso andar azotando calles, lejos, en ése triste papel de emigrante.  Acuérdate de Miguelito: internado en aquél hospital de Madrid, nada más por asustarse y alucinar con un charco de sangre que encontró en el portal que limpiaba a diario. Su piel quemada, su estrella negra de poeta, lo hundieron. Luego, me contaría el episodio una y otra vez, hinchado de ganja. “Sucios gilipollas”, recordaba furioso. Y empezaba con el cuento de que África renacería como la madre del mundo. Para él, Europa y Norteamérica serían castigados por su infinito egoísmo; se lo insinuaba su sangre Zulú, Fulfulde y Ashanti. Cuando le llevé a Trini, abrió tamaños ojos de pervertido, y hasta unos versos le dedicó. Mientras la hacía escuchar a Tom Jobim, me previno: “mire, poeta, esa niña tiene la marca de Olofi. Yo que usted, andaría ojo pelao cuidándome del hambre de su cuerpo. De su hambre toda”. Pero qué interés podía tener yo en cuidarme de nada. Para qué. Más bien atesoraba esa cercanía, que en el fondo era como estar siempre al borde de lo incierto. Había algo en Trini que la vinculaba a otras regiones u órdenes. Ese algo era lo que me untaba la modorra al cuerpo. Y se lo pedía entonces, ya que continuaba en busca de sus malditos cigarros en el ropero: “Muéstramelos, Trini… por hoy solamente.” Sacaba uno, dos, tres, cinco, siete frascos con los cuerpecitos arrugados, pequeñitos, varios de piel traslúcida. Recuerdo uno, de mayor tamaño que el resto y, lo puedo jurar, se le insinuaban ya las diminutas alas de ángel.


[1] Eleonora Filkenstein, “El Ángel”.

Winners of the VII Premio de Cuentos Policlinica Metropolitana para Jovenes Autores announced

Congratulations to Delia Mariana Arismendi, who won first place in the VII Premio de Cuentos Policlinica Metropolitana para Jovenes Autores for her short story ‘Barricadas’. Judges Rubi Guerra, Gisela Kozak Rovero and Fedosy Santaella unanimously chose Arismendi’s story out of 118 entries from all over Venezuela. Second place was awarded to ‘Para Elisa’ by Gabriel Payares while Maikel Ramírez Álvarez took third place with ‘Apocalipsis a la carté’. The following all received honourable mentions:

‘Esta Propatria’ by Nora Edén Mora; ‘Decembrina noche caraqueña’ by Andrea Carolina López; ‘No somos modernos’ by Ricardo Ramírez Requena; ‘También sobre el alma nieva’ by Carlos De Santis and ‘Friend’ signed with the pseudonym Caín.

The judges praised ‘Barricadas’, whose author had won second prize in last year’s contest, for constructing a deep, raw and moving story of one of those characters on the edges of society who are usually treated with a lack of understanding or as a joke, in a truthful way, without clichés. They called the story ‘richly human and full of nuances’.

You can read the full verdict on Prodavinci. The three winners will receive a cash prize of Bs 10,000 (about £1000), 5,000 and 2,500 respectively, and a compilation of all the finalists’ stories will be published.

Piedra de mar

Ignoro lo que debe darse lugar en las páginas y lo que hay que dejar a un lado. Supongo que debe ser lo más importante de la vida. Pero entonces ¿qué es lo más importante en la vida?

I don’t know what should be in these pages and what should be left out. I suppose it should be the most important things in life. But then, what are the most important things in life? 

Reading Francisco Massiani‘s Piedra de mar (Monte Ávila: 1968) today, it is easy to miss its significance. We’ve become used to youth language, to stream-of-consciousness, to the bored and self-obsessed teenager as protagonist. However, on its release, Massiani’s debut novel caused a stir for its radical rupture with traditional, national narrative. It has since become a Venezuelan classic itself, often included in school reading lists and frequently cited as an influence on contemporary writers.

Piedra de mar is the story of Corcho, who is painfully shy, depressed and lonely, despite seemingly spending all of his time with friends. Corcho tells us of his struggles and his sadness, encapsulated in the love for Carolina which he is unable to express to her. Massiani’s brief novel is often compared to Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), as there are multiple similarities between the two in terms of both protagonist and narrative technique. Corcho is individualist and self-absorbed; the novel takes us into his head and attempts to make us share his angst. Written when Massiani was just 24, it is a document of the youth language and culture of the 60s in Venezuela, but the emotions are those that every teenager supposedly goes through at some point. As the blurb for Piedra de mar advertises:.”La suya es una prosa […] que no tiene ningún respeto por las palabras” [His is a prose that has no respect for words]. Just as he cannot vocalise his feelings for Carolina, Corcho’s stream-of-consciousness prose suggests an inability to neatly verbalise his excessive emotions, as well as a rebellion against literary tradition.

In fact, Corcho is writing a novel throughout Piedra de mar, making the novel a self-reflexive exploration of the nature of writing.

“Creo que hace millones de años, la gente necesitaba contar algo. Quiero decir: el escritor cuando se ponía a escribir quería decir algo […] Pero llegó el día que al escritor le importó más la forma de contarlo que lo que podía o no contar y se puso con las jeringas, y tijeras, y a cambiar una palabrita para acá y otra más arriba, y blá blá blá, hasta que llegmaos a nuestro siglo y todo lo que se escribe es un asco”.

“I think that millions of years ago, people needed to say something. I mean: when the writer sat down to write he wanted to say something […] But the day came when the writer cared more about the form of the story than what he could or could not tell and he got the needles and scissors and changed a little word her and another up there and blah blah blah, until we arrive at our century and everything that’s written is revolting”.

Piedra de mar has become mythologised. Every writer seems to have a story about where they first read it or how it affected their lives. Even its inception has become a legend. One of Massiani’s favourite stories is about how when he met Simón Alberto Consalvi, who was just about to set up Monte Ávila, Consalvi asked him whether he had a ‘short, fresh, youthful’ text. He replied yes, of course, even though he had nothing of the sort. He then ran straight home to write Piedra de mar, a story he had not even considered before, and after a year and a half of frantic writing, a classic was born.