Israel Centeno: “Mi novela no es una obra política” / Michelle Roche Rodríguez

Israel Centeno: “My novel isn’t political”

[Photo: Sandra Bracho for El Nacional]

Utopias refer to places where things function with such efficiency they become fantastic; anti-utopias obey the opposite formula: they are territories where nothing goes well and humans live in desperation.

Bajo las hojas [Beneath the Leaves] by Israel Centeno is the novel about an anti-utopia that represents Venenezuela in the field of 10 finalists for the III Premio Iberoamericano Planeta-Casa de América award.

Centeno clarifies that his pessimistic vision is not merely a vision of the country, but also of the planet. “Even though it portrays elements of the Venezuelan moment, the book shouldn’t be interpreted as a political novel, since it has elements from many areas,” he says.

Set in Caracas, Havana and London, Bajo las hojas is the story of a few journalists who instead of writing about the news, spend their time changing events and creating a new (and fictional) reality. “The reporters don’t “report” the news but rather they “compose” it according to the taste of whoever’s in power,” the author points out and alludes to the evident influence of 1984, written by the Englishman George Orwell in 1949.

Bajo las hojas is the first of a tetralogy of unpublished novels that includes: Jinete a pie, El reencuentro and Una novelita victoriana.

The situation of an anti-utopia also offers fertile ground for magic and includes elements of the thriller, the Gothic and themes of Victorian literature. “In this proposal I worked on archetypes of horror such as vampires, the wolf man, lycanthropes,” enumerates Centeno.

The author highlights that the story’s structure is based on the counterpoint of literary voices, topics and characters that illustrate the obsessions of the recent century’s conclusion.

Headed to Mexico. In the three times the contest has been held, Centeno is the first Venezuelan to have reached the list of 10 finalists.

“I proposed a very ambitious project for myself and during 4 years I dedicated myself exclusively to writing this. I think my work speaks for itself and I have faith in my novel. I’m gratified that it ended up among the 10 best ones out of nearly 500 (including those by 16 Venezuelans) and I wager on my work no matter what the results might be,” the writer assures, somewhat nervous.

The rest of the authors competing for the prize, which will be announced in Mexico’s capitol on the 31st of this month, come from Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico and Spain. The last three nations are represented by three novels each. This year, 493 novels written by Latin Americans were submitted.

Among the books Centeno has published are: Calletania (1992), Rabo del diablo y otros cuentos (1993), Hilo de cometa y otras iniciaciones (1996), Exilio en Bowery (1999), Criaturas de la noche (2001), El complot (2002), La Casa del Dragón (2004), Bengala (2005) and Iniciaciones (2006).

{ Michelle Roche Rodríguez, El Nacional, 26 March 2009 }

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