Every month, we tell you which Latin American writings we are reading. Taking many different forms and featuring writers stretching the whole of the South, Central and North America, we bring to you a wide selection of the modern works that are stirring literary interests. This month, Literature Editor Millie Corp explores the work of Liliana Lara.
The voice said that this was the only number for a relative of Rodrigo that it had been able to find, that it was frightened to death, didn’t know how it had happened, didn’t know what to do. It said that Rodrigo’s corpse was there, face up, naked. The voice had started to tremble, whatever came next sounded like a muddle of fears.
La voz dijo que era el único número de teléfono de un familiar de Rodrigo que había encontrado, que se moría de miedo, que no sabía cómo había pasado, que no sabía qué hacer. Dijo que el cadáver de Rodrigo se encontraba allí, de espaldas, desnudo. La voz había comenzado a tiritar, cualquier cosa dicha luego sonó a amalgama de miedos.
The Body/El cuerpo – Liliana Lara
Liliana Lara is a Venezuelan writer, born in Caracas in 1971. We were first turned onto Lara here at Bristolatino after we chatted to Katie Brown about her Crude Words compilation. After Katie cited Lara’s The Body to be the favourite of her short stories, we knew we had to check it out. Lara published her first collection of short stories, Los Jardines de Salomón, in 2008. She was awarded the Venezuelan prize Premio Bienal Literaria José Antonio Ramos Sucre in the same year, with the judges praising the depth of the characters and stylistic prowess of the collection. The release of Trampa-jaula came in 2015, which too received critical acclaim – this time recognised by the Premio Equinoccio de Cuentos Oswaldo Trejo.
Currently living in Israel, Lara speaks about how the initial move away Venezuela left her disorientated, no longer knowing her relationship to literature or writing as a caraqueña in the Middle East. This unbalance led her to abandon her writing, focusing instead on fitting into a new country. That was until she was rescued, as she likes to put it, by the Venezuelan weekly publication Nuevo Mundo Israelita, that she read and subsequently started writing for. This reintroduction to writing made revived and reminded her of her passion, and hence she embarked on the project Los Jardines de Salomón. She found herself writing this compilation whilst there was conflict with Lebanon, leading her to comment on the Israelis’ capacity to put up with extreme situations. Her writing also marks the effect that the constant presence of the conflict had on society. Propelling her to write out of fear that she might be forced to stop at any moment, the conflict infiltrates her works in apocalyptic undertones. Nowadays, she considers herself a peripheral writer, displaced from her native Venezuela and linguistically marginalised in Israel.
Whilst the actions that Rubén takes could be deemed to be cold and uncaring, to the point of completely unresponsive, we could perhaps read this story as representative of the difficulty of the situation in modern-day Venezuela – loss needs to be turned into gain.
This pragmatism that Lara speaks about – adapting to cultural differences, the resilience of the Israelis, the attempt to fit into a different world and overcome language barriers – is threaded into the tale The Body (El cuerpo). The main protagonist, Rubén, proves his practical approach to life time and again in the events that follow the discovery that his brother, a highly successful psychiatrist, has died during one of his regular motel meetings with a younger, male patient of his. We see Rubén manufacture the best out of a situation where most would not be able to see beyond loss: here “successful” is synonymous with “financially well-off”, and Rubén comes up with a plan that will simultaneously see off his own money problems and his persisting sense of sibling rivalry. Whilst the actions that Rubén takes could be deemed to be cold and uncaring, to the point of completely unresponsive, we could perhaps read this story as representative of the difficulty of the situation in modern-day Venezuela – loss needs to be turned into gain. The reader’s journey of discovery mirrors that of Ruben’s: the events unfurl in the same way he too perceived them. Alongside Rubén, we must draw together pieces of information to make the most logical sense of the situation. This connection might even lead the reader to sympathise with the character. After all, he has just lost a his brother and is in deep financial trouble, finding himself unemployed. However, when we uncover his plan as the short story comes to a close, we begin to reassess and doubt his earlier actions. Why didn’t Rubén tell his girlfriend that he was getting in the car to sort out the motel mess? Did he really want to protect his brother’s reputation for selfless reasons when he moved the body into the back seat of his car? Our sympathy and subsequent speculation leads us to question what we ourselves would have done in Rubén’s place.
Header photo- ‘My sun and stars’, Henry Chirinos (Venezuela)