La danza del jaguar

Fiction is my staple. As a reader, I'm moved by novels more than any other form. Last night I finished V.S. Naipaul's The Mimic Men (1967). Like his earlier A House for Mr. Biswas, it's a brilliant and engrossing novel. Despite his problematic reading of Trinidad, the Caribbean and the rest of the Third World, his prose is magnificent. (Derek Walcott and Chinua Achebe have written eloquent critiques of Naipaul's "problem" regarding race and location.) The narrator of The Mimic Men offers a terrifying glimpse of a life lived as though one were half invisible, half dead.

(Who are these notes to? Myself and the machine, I suppose.)

When I was in NY recently I was surprised to find a novel by the Venezuelan writer Ednodio Quintero, La danza del jaguar (Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana, 1991) at 14th street's Librería Lectorum. From what I read in El Nacional, where he was interviewed a few months ago, he still teaches at the Universidad de Los Andes in Mérida.

The cover of this paperback edition has a painting by Oswaldo Vigas, entitled "Mi animal de costumbre" (1977), a reference to Juan Sánchez Peláez's 1959 collection of poems. In English, the phrase doesn't seem to carry the same tone: "My creature of habit..." Since I became aware of Vigas' work several years ago, I've noticed the affinities between him and Cuba's brilliant Wifredo Lam.

The first sentence of La danza del jaguar begins:

"I was born in a rustic place on the high mountain."

One topic I sometimes think about is why Venezuelan literature remains so invisible outside Venezuela. I approach the topic from a distance, from this city I was born in, far North of Caracas. Part of it must be nostalgia, which is a useless emotion.

It amazes me that such great poets and novelists remain untranslated throughout the English speaking world. In his introduction to Eugenio Montejo's selected poems, The Trees (Salt Publishing, 2004), the critic and fiction writer Miguel Gomes offers some interesting reasons as to this invisibility. One explanation is the relative stability and wealth that Venezuela enjoyed throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when many South American countries were crippled by dictatorships. This relative prosperity kept Venezuela out of the news, for the most part. Gomes also discusses how Venezuelan writers ended up at the fringes of the Boom literary movement, even if novelists such as Adriano González León and Salvador Garmendia received wide critical acclaim.

I don't remember my initial visits to family in Caracas in the early 1970s. My first memory of Venezuela is when we moved there, taking a freight ship from NY to La Guaira in the summer of 1976. There was one other family travelling aboard that ship, including a girl my age who I played with at dinner and on deck during the days-long journey. I distinctly remember the view of La Guaira's hills and palm trees seen from the deck as we approached and the intense burst of humidity that surrounded the boat during those hours we were docked and unloading. One has no choice but to write these memories down, in varying forms.

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