#Librodeldía books of the year: Liubliana and Caracas Muerde

This is a translation of an article posted by @storytellerve09 on 12/12/12 on #Librodeldía: read the original here.

The persistence of the combat

liubliana
Caracas muerde

The sales figures of the Venezuelan publishing market are modests when compared with other countries, like Spain or France. However, the avidity of our readers has corresponded with the effort of those who publish and sell new books, so that we can now see second editions of some national works. This is occurring thanks to the conjunction of skilled booksellers, book fairs and the powerful affect of social networks (where excellent initiatives like @Queleer and @ellibrodeldia stand out).

Within the cosmos of works published in Venezuela during 2012, to chose our book of the year, we have followed the advice of Frédéric Beigbeder, harsh French writer and apocalyptic anthologist: “to choose a book that we like is to define ourselves“.

There were two books, then, that defined some of our persistent features: Liubliana (Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles) and Caracas Muerde (Héctor Torres).

From the other side of the ocean, Sánchez Rugeles developed the ghosts of a lost generation in a city that no longer exists. The result: young adults juxtaposing scenes from their lives in a page of the novel. Hector Torres, for his part, testified to a fragmentary and cannibalistic Caracas. His stories narrowed the distance between the reader and their nightmares.

Writing”, Guillermo Sucre notes, “is only a way to see reality and to be in the world”. The broken dreams of the characters in Liubliana and the survivors of Caracas Muerde, opened the eyes of their readers by setting out the terms of their internal and external combats, respectively. 

If all novels are a deception, what are we readers looking for? Reading each page we see our reflection multiplied in the mirror. Through the plot of books, we try to solve the mysteries of our pataphysics.

Perhaps in the intimacy of reading, who we were or who we put off being, calls out – from the paper – for vengeance against what Borges called “the times that we live“. This year, Sánchez Rugeles and Héctor Torres carried out the vengeance of those other-us that resound in their books.

Venezuelan literature in 2012, paraphrasing Houellebecq, has extended the battlefield; and that is reason to celebrate.

Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles

Born: Caracas, 1977

Website: sanchezrugeles.com

Photo from País Portatil

Twitter: @sanchezrugeles

Key themes: As part of the Venezuelan diaspora himself, living, studying and writing in Madrid since 2007, it is no surprise that Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles’ works all document the complex, often ambivalent relationship between young Venezuelans and their homeland. They address both the general questioning of identity (Who am I? Where do I belong?) which has universal resonance, and specific issues of what it means to be Venezuelan. This leads to a real sense of sadness in his novels, from characters who never feel settled or at home anywhere.

While Sánchez Rugeles’ works bring to life truly engrossing characters and very personal stories, they are also cultural expressions of attitudes towards of contemporary Venezuelan society and politics. Intertwined with the individual stories are explorations of issues such as social inequality, Chavism, Venezuela’s place in Latin America and the wider world.

Stylistically, Sánchez Rugeles’ work is notable for the interweaving of different media into literature, from films and TV to MSN or Blackberry Messenger, and above all, music. Moreover, he is a master of suspense, telling his stories in a complex mesh of flash-backs and flash-forwards which constantly pose more questions as they slowly elucidate answers.

Works

Novels:

Blue Label/Etiqueta Azul. 2010. Caracas: Editorial CEC. Winner of the Arturo Uslar Pietri Prize.
Reprinted in the USA by Sudaquia, 2013.

Transilvania Unplugged. 2011. Caracas: Alfaguara.

Liubliana. 2012. Caracas: Ediciones B.
Reprinted in Mexico: Fondo Editorial Estado de Mexico, 2012.
Slovenian version, 2013: Ljubljana, Editorial Študentska založba/Beletrina Academic Press. Trans: Marjeta Prelesnik Drogz.

Jezabel. 2013. Caracas: Ediciones B.

Short story collections:

Los Desterrados. 2011. Caracas: Ediciones B.

Interviews:

El viaje de Sánchez Rugeles in El Universal 11 May 2012

Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles: “La literatura debe hacer reír” in El Universal 27 February 2012

«Llegué a la literatura a través del cine» in País Portatil, July 2012

Música y cine en/desde la literatura in País Portatil, May 2012

Blue Label/Etiqueta Azul

– ¿Qué quieres ser cuando seas grande?

– Francesa

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “French”.

Blue Label/Etiqueta Azul (Caracas, CEC: 2010; reprinted in the USA, Sudaquia: 2013) is Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles‘ first novel, for which he won the Arturo Uslar Pietri Prize, whose judges praised the work for capturing the realities of Venezuelan middle class urban youth, both in terms of their language and their sense of confusion and disillusionment with the country. In his forward to the novel, Antonio Ecarri Angola claimed that it is proof of what young Venezuelan authors are capable of despite their disadvantages in terms of national education provision.

If you like a story that tugs at your emotions, then Blue Label/Etiqueta Azul is the book for you. It’s the story of a bored, lonely and deeply sad 17-year-old caraqueña, Eugenia Blanc, who experiences a whole new world through her adventures with classmate Luis Tévez, an enigmatic outsider. Like so many young middle-class Venezuelans (see figures from El Universal), Eugenia yearns to leave the country, and hopes that if she can find her French grandfather, she will be able to get French citizenship. This is the catalyst for a road-trip across the Venezuelan interior (Caracas-Barinas-Altamira de Caceres-Mérida), which brings the two shy teenagers together, while at the same time, like Y Tu Mamá También, reveals the realities of the country – poverty, violence, corruption, and lack of infrastructure – through the car window.

Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles receiving the Arturo Uslar Pietri Prize

The story takes its name from the Johnnie Walker whisky which appears as a status symbol in the homes of supposed socialists: “Nada de andar tomando charichari ni whisky barato. En esta casa se bebe Etiqueta Azul” [None of this going around drinking charichari or cheap whisky. In this house we drink Blue Label]. The bilingual title is also a hint to border crossing nature of the novel: while Eugenia and Luis drive across the country (it’s no surprise that Sánchez Rugeles is a big fan of Kerouac’s On The Road), the novel blends languages, time periods (flashing forward and back between events) and different media.

A particularly striking feature of Blue Label is the incorporation of popular culture; references to TV, films, and above all music frame, underscore and foreshadow the events narrated. The road-trip has a constant soundtrack, consisting primarily of Bob Dylan’s 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, and Sánchez Rugeles skilfully weaves together the plot with the lyrics. Luis is the ‘little boy lost [who] takes himself so seriously’ while Eugenia is the Mona Lisa with the highway blues. If you’re not yet familiar with Visions of Johanna, listen to it before reading Blue Label, as the whole story is encapsulated in that song.

Jean Franco wrote in 2002 that in an age when all other certainties – nationality, political ideologies, religion – have become confused, blurred or lost, it is music that connects us to other people through time and space. Through the novel, it becomes clear that the ‘homeland’ no longer provides a solid base for identity, that the pure ideals of socialism have failed, that Eugenia and Luis are completely lost and ‘finding yourself’ is just what happens in bad fiction. Within all that, their link to music, and to each other, is the only thing that seems real.

While the novel offers a fascinating insight into the attitudes of middle-class youth to contemporary Venezuelan society, it is above all an incredibly engaging portrait of two tragic characters. You can’t help but feel for them and get swept up in their lives and their journey. I couldn’t put it down.

Reviews/opinion pieces:

Caracas, la horrible – Ricardo Blanco, El Nacional: Papel Literario, pp.6-7.

Blue Label / Etiqueta Azul: Young Venezuela’s Desperate Cry for Attention – Montague Kobbe

El infierno es la memoria – Alfonso Molina

Ante Blue Label – Robert Lovera de Sola