El hombre que regala historias / Carles Geli

The Man Who Gives Away Stories

The collected short stories of the Venezuelan Ednodio Quintero, creator of a world with its own mythology, confirm him as one of Latin America’s most imaginative authors.

[Photo: Carmen Secanella for El País]

“A tightrope walker performs in a town; everyone shows up because they know that, given the suicidal difficulty, the trapeze artist will fall sooner or later. A young man shows up one day, and another and another and another to see him and nothing ever happens; there are dangers, frights, but nothing; one single time, for reasons beyond his control, and he can’t make it; the tightrope walker actually falls. It's a gift for you: you write it, but you should make it very clear that it was the man who went every day who kept the tightrope walker from falling.” It’s not every day someone gives away a story... to be written, but this is the generosity displayed by the Venezuelan Ednodio Quintero (Las Mesitas, Trujillo, 1947). He can allow himself to give away such expensive ideas considering Combates (Candaya), the first volume of his complete short stories that gathers his most recent production of shorter fiction, ranging from 1995 to 2000: an abundance of stories in a hard landscape that marks a world that is slightly distressing, almost mythological, with warriors and characters with strange codes of conduct, susceptible to metamorphosis and anthropomorphism, about whom we know just the right amount thanks to a language that is as precise as it is brief.

That unsettling point of fantasy is distilled by Quintero himself, with polished skin and slightly slanted eyes –“I consider myself mestizo, but I’m only 16% Indian, I calculated it”– who was destined, according to the highest social aspiration in those latitudes, to be a rural telegrapher and today is one of his country’s most potent voices. “I was born in a village of 500 souls, removed from everything and which you reached on horseback; there was no electricity or anything and the imaginary was nearly medieval, from the 16th century, from when the Spanish explorers arrived.”

The rural geography was curious: “The poorer you were, the higher you went up the mountain,” he formulates. In his case, he arrived at 2,600 meters in a little town called Visún. “I read before I began to speak, more than anything because I was quiet; later on I had an adolescent crisis but my parents thought I was going crazy; I would say to myself: “I don’t know what I am but I’m different from everyone else.” And they took me to the countryside for a change in climate.” The punishment was the house of a relative with a remarkable library which translated into reading Faulkner at age 15 and “an intense contact with nature, the world of plants and, above all, with minerals.” And maybe because of that, the boy who wanted to be a civil engineer –”those who build bridges and roads”– ended up by mistake –”I really made a mistake with my major in college”– as a forest engineer, which allowed him to travel through nearly all the forests of the Amazon and the Ivory Coast, which can be glimpsed as settings in, among others, his first and highly praised novel, La danza del jaguar (1991).

If it partly explains a geography, does that childhood also explain certain characters? “If there is an element of mythology, it’s Greek, but my mythologies are invented, they're rituals or totally imagined things or ones that seem to be; imagination is the basic premise of writing; I don’t have anything against realism, but my thing is imagination at the service of nothingness.” And in that vein he cites above all Kafka (“The Metamorphosis gave me nightmares”), Borges and Cortázar, influences that disappeared starting with the short stories in El corazón ajeno (2000). An arduous task. “Writing grinds everything down: a writer, in his early phase, is always an imitation of another preceding author or of his parents until he finds a world, a voice...” This is why some have said of Quintero that he is a unpunished explorer: “Language is an instrument everyone neglects; the writer must answer not to the market but to Cervantes and to the tongue itself, to help create a language, with its own lexicon and particular forms of construction...” A style? “No, what I mean goes further... And then, to die; my Faustian bargain would be that one.”

Those stories that seem like dreams (“many of them come from there, like the story “Caza:” I remember them when I wake up; other times I daydream and can only react by making myself crack the toes of my feet”) are populated by warriors with strange codes of behavior, physically or mentally wounded. Almost an army by the end. “I detest violence; I don’t get into arguments and I don’t carry even a nail clipper, but existence is a war; good and evil; in sum, existence is an evil battle to fight.” And they also fall quite often, whether in external holes or in the deeper ones within themselves, as the story “La caída” makes explicit. “I’m an amniotic rider: when she was pregnant, my mother fell off the horse and I remember that I grabbed onto the umbilical chord like a monkey on a vine: that image has followed me for a long time.”

But Quintero’s characters never give up not even in the worst situations (“In my e-mails I even use the signature: “We don’t give up; there’s only one life.”), they talk to themselves a lot, in first person, and even with their alter ego: “I’ve reached the conclusion that that voice is the result of the solitary manner in which I’ve lived; if I have problems, I still talk to myself out loud; I travel in an autarchic manner.” And could it be they suffer from a type of blindness? “The human eye is constructed to see certain things, it’s not prepared to see everything within reality, like the energies that surround us.” And he says that reflection leads him to consider the story “El hombre caja,” where the character decides to live inside a box from which he watches the world only through a small crack made so he can see. The story belongs to the Japanese writer Kobe Abe, who Quintero cites, along with Banana Yoshimoto, like the good Japanese specialist that he is and after having lived in that country for a year: “Japanese culture is in tune with my way of being: respect for the other, tranquility; they say they’re extravagant and that’s the result of their freedom.” And what does he think of the Haruki Murakami effect? “It’s explained a great deal by his blend of the American and the Japanese and there’s also the connection on the shamanic side.”

Quintero is an established voice –La muerte viaja a caballo (1974); Mariana y los comanches (2004)...- of a Venezuelan literature that, seen from the outside, only produced Rómulo Gallegos or Arturo Uslar Pietri and that during the Latin American Boom barely gave us a glimpse of Guillermo Meneses and Adriano González León. “My theory is that, just like we do with petroleum, we think of ourselves as a country that’s self-sufficient in almost everything; it’s a very 20th century phenomenon; it’s also true that we haven’t had an exile and we’ve definitely had a correct editorial industry,” he points out. But their literary neighbors don’t mention them when they visit Spain. “That’s because of Latin America’s process of sociocultural balkanization,” he responds and adds two indispensable names: Rafael Cadenas in poetry and Victoria de Stefano in fiction. And the influence of a politician like Hugo Chávez in Venezuelan culture? “90% of Venezuelan intellectuals are not with him, but he’s a very skilled ignoramus: the State-owned bookstores are very affordable, for instance, but he equalizes by means of the lowest denominator: the foreigners who arrive, for example, are Bolivians and schools impose a notable ideological orientation.”

He says he has lost energy when writing, but not when reading, to which he has dedicated “14-hour sessions;” maybe that explains why he can cite Bernardo Atxaga, Enrique Vila-Matas or Ignacio Martínez Pisón. And that’s why no one better than him to define the short story, with a few notes he takes out of his small notebook, as if it were a formula: “Geometrical narrative object –its mechanism should respond to a sphere–, precise –without residue or stupidities– and precious –with a very careful language.” He has to go. One apologizes in case he has been delayed excessively. “Don’t worry; I never arrive late: something always happens to make me be there on time no matter how much I might not want to.” Could he be giving away another story?

{ Carles Geli, Babelia, El País, 9 January 2010 }


Thania said...

Is his book going to be publish in the U.S either in Spanish or English? or our only chance to get it is by paying those euros I don't have? :(

I love the article (in both languages) He's a new discovery for me, kind of late, but I'll catch up.

Guillermo Parra said...

Hola Thania,

I don't think it'll be published here in the States. Imagínate, every time I've gone to Venezuela recently the books by Editorial Candaya have been way too expensive for me to buy, so I still don't have this book. I've only read his novel "La danza del jaguar," which I love. I hope to eventually buy Combates and Mariana y los comanches.

Here's a story of his I really like, published recently online, "Maracaibo en la noche": http://cuatrocuentos.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/ednodio-quintero-maracaibo-en-la-noche

Thania said...

Thanks, I loved it!
I'm going to share it.

Candaya published, Bolaño Salvaje, and I bought it, 25 euros :(

Guillermo Parra said...

Yeah, Bolaño Salvaje is wonderful! I love that book. There's another small Spanish press that's also focusing on Latin American authors, Editorial Periférica (linked on the right, below).