Pilar Quintana at the Miami Book Fair: García Márquez is not our father, he’s our grandfather

Post-pandemic fever has brought the United States back to life, it is evidenced in the interest in returning to normality and enjoying cultural events. Miami Dade College’s Miami Book Fair is one of the largest in the northern country, it was created in 1984 and is here. From November 14 to 21 we will have a festival of books, authors, events and news.

Miami Book Fair 2021 © Adriana Bianco

This year the events will be hybrids, some face-to-face and others virtual, with the participation of renowned authors and new talents enhancing Hispanic culture in the United States.

The director of the Miami Book Fair Spanish Program, Mariela Gal, he told us:

“We have worked hard to offer the public an Ibero-American Authors Program with news, established writers, poetry, essays, children’s literature, emerging talents and the best literary quality”

The fair will be attended by storytellers from various countries: Ana Maria Shua from Argentina, Pia Barros From Chile, Pablo Montoya from Colombia, a tribute will be paid to Augusto Monterroso, Honduran writer who is a master of the micro story on the 100th anniversary of his birth. From Spain they will arrive Fermín Goñi and Andrés Pérez Domínguez and the researcher Irene Vallejo with his work Infinity in a reed.

Great Latin American writers like the Mexican ones Elena Poniatowska, Cervantes Prize, and Sandra Cisneros author of the famous novel The house on Mango Street will have a meeting, Elena will do it virtually with the writer Arturo Morell and Sandra, of Mexican origin but who writes in English, will do so in person.

In this edition there has been a strong emphasis on Venezuelan literature, with a «Portable Country» forum. This forum is a dialogue about recent Venezuelan literature with the writers Eli bravo, Camilo Pino and Luis Alejandro Ordonez. In turn, the writers Karina Sainz Borgo, who currently lives in Spain, will comment on his novel The third country, and the poet and narrator Jacqueline goldberg from Caracas he will comment on his book Destruction have mercy.

The issue of the pandemic is not absent with the Cuban Jorge Ferrer, the Mexican novelist Veronica Murguía and the bolivian writer Edmundo Paz Soldán.

There is also no lack of children’s and young people’s literature, with a Book Picnic organized by the Cuatrogatos Foundation and a series of activities dedicated to small people and also to the adult public, with more than two hundred publishers, independent publishers, literary workshops and the presence of thousands of books ready to be read.

Adriana Bianco and Pilar Quintana at the Miami Book Fair
Adriana Bianco and Pilar Quintana at the Miami Book Fair

Pilar Quintana and The abysses

Within the framework of the fair, the Colombian writer Pilar Quintana, born in 1972 in Cali, Colombia, awarded in Spain with the La Mar de Letras Novel Prize, for her book Rare Dust Collectors and currently Alfaguara Novel Prize 2021 for The abysses, spoke with me about his work, violence, female eroticism, adultery and the panorama of Latin American literature. This was our dialogue.

Pilar Quintana: My vocation as a writer was very early. At the age of seven when I was taught to write at school, as soon as I had enough words I wrote a story. Since then I have dedicated myself to writing. When I got out of college, my first job was writing scripts for television..

Adriana bianco: Your generation has writers who work for film and television, Santiago Roncagliolo, Jorge Franco, but there is a difference between conceiving a novel and a television script.

PQ: Sure there is, but it was a great school for me. I had a unique career because I worked for television and by writing scripts I learned formulas to tell stories effectively that you can apply to novels. Shakespeare had an internal structure in his plays and that’s what you have to learn.

AB: Being a screenwriter gave you great fluidity in the dialogues, but you don’t conceive the novel as a film script like Manuel Puig, for example.

PQ: I try not to see the script. I believe that I conceive novels as films in the sense that I am the director, not of actors, but of words, and I want my readers’ experience to be like entering a cinema. With my novels I want my readers to feel inside the novel, I do not want to attract attention with language, but rather that language is at the service of narration and history. I want my readers to enter my novel, live it, feel it.

AB: You spoke of the language, Spanish. You use an understandable language, with some Colombian idioms or regionalisms, perhaps because the point of view of the narrative is that of the girl, an educated girl who tells what she sees.

PQ: In Colombia they tell me that it is not written in “Colombian” but in “Caleño.” Abroad they have told me that Colombian Spanish feels. I believe that the experience of a novel should be like going to visit a place, a country, receiving the smells, colors, food, landscape, and language of the place. It is a novel written as we speak in Cali. For me language is very important, for a writer it is the fundamental tool, but some writers try to attract attention with language, they even say that it is the protagonist of the novel. In my case it does not happen. Language is an almost invisible vehicle, I don’t want to attract attention with language.

AB: Let’s talk about your novels. How did La perra come about?

PQ: I wrote it on my return to Bogotá, I had lived nine years in the Colombian Pacific and it was a definitive experience for me. I think La perra is my answer to that experience of the jungle.

AB: How did you conceive The abysses? There are binding themes in these novels. The theme of suicide, the fall, motherhood, female sexuality, adultery and the critique of provincial bourgeois society.

PQ: Yes, there is, at least, a portrait of that society and there is something else: childhood fears.

AB: Is it an autobiographical novel? Are you that girl?

PQ: No. The character is fiction, the family too, but the city of Cali is what I remember from my childhood, when I describe the landscape I base myself on that experience. You named motherhood and there is a place where I place myself as a writer and it is the place of what is forbidden to women. I have dealt with the subject of desire in women. An educated lady does not want and if she wants, she does not count. My work is an exploration of women’s desire and the way they manifest and dimension it. We can name motherhood as fulfillment, something wonderful but we cannot name the dark, the challenges, the fears, what is difficult for us..

AB: Your protagonist is not a good mother, she is an erratic woman, she is unfaithful, she is an anti-heroine that I compare her to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. It is the Latin American Bovary.

PQ: Yes! It is a modern, Colombian and Latin American Bovary from the seventies. My character is a woman trapped in a world that she did not choose, did not choose what she wanted to be.

AB: She couldn’t win the challenge that’s why she’s not a heroine, she’s a Madame Bovary. The other big issue is adultery. The woman is not forgiven as the man.

PQ: Not only is he not forgiven, he is understood, and to a certain extent infidelity in man is glorified. A woman is judged with a different bar. Women have to be beautiful, good, not too whores, and that’s how my character arises, a broken woman who looks for escapes for her life: adultery is one, the wrong romantic love, another is alcoholism, then the pills..

AB: That’s where I’m going, because the other issue that prevails is violence, tangentially you name the guerrilla, drug trafficking, but suicide is also a form of violence against oneself, like alcoholism, pills.

PQ: There are Colombian writers who have narrated our guerrilla conflict, the outside world, the war. It seems to me to be a very important issue, but I am interested in other violence, violence from within people, violence at home, domestic violence, violence within. Colombia is a country with bloody violence outside, but forget the violence inside, that is the violence that I narrate. A trapped woman who sees no way out and sees death as a way out. The violence in which patriarchy pigeonholes women, the roles they have to fulfill.

AB: Yes, but it must be recognized that the protagonist does not know how to define her destiny. There is a psychological violence in her, the violence is in herself.

PQ: I wanted to make that reflection on my mother’s generation, who had it much more difficult than us. Do you remember those actresses in bathrobes with a glass of whiskey, who looked glamorous and were depressed, medicated, trying to escape and alcohol was that escape?…. I wanted to portray that situation that seemed glamorous and that it was a trap.

AB: Movies and magazines appear in your novel, Pop literature in the manner of Manuel Puig in “Boquitas pintadas.”

PQ: Yes. There is a way of relating to what is far away and we see it as an aspiration, which is the life of famous people. Today we have social networks, Instagram, at that time there were movies and gossip magazines. There was a distance between what was shown and reality, between the mask and reality. Those celebrities, stars, princesses, singers were brilliant but we saw later that they were unhappy, that they suffered. Those magazines were important in my sentimental formation.

AB: Your generation of the seventies, Santiago Roncagliolo, Jorge Franco, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, overcame Magic Realism and did not commit parricide against Gabriel García Márquez, all these writers mentioned in some way venture into film and television.

PQ: I feel part of that generation, I think we are a generation with another point of view. We are not parricides because our Nobel Prize is not our father, he is our grandfather.

(We laugh, grandparents are not killed).

AB: On the other hand, you are part of a great movement of women writers in Latin America, Laura Esquivel, Elena Poniatowska, Gioconda Belli, Isabel Allende, Claudia Piñeiro …

PQ: Yes, and I want to tell you that I feel integrated with those Latin American women that we are writing and that we are exploring our themes from ourselves, we are no longer feminine literature with a pejorative look, we have brought a work to literature, with our themes and from our feminine vision, standing out.

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Pilar Quintana at the Miami Book Fair: García Márquez is not our father, he’s our grandfather