El escritor venezolano José Balza, uno de los grandes olvidados del “boom” / Carmen Sigüenza

Venezuelan Writer José Balza, One of the Forgotten Greats of the “Boom”

Madrid, 9 Nov (EFE).- In the so called Latin American “Boom” not everyone had the visibility of Vargas Llosa, García Márquez or Fuentes, there were also great writers during that time that didn’t have the same editorial fortune or who preferred to live literature in another manner, such as the Venezuelan José Balza.

An essential writer in Spanish-language fiction, born in the delta of the Orinoco river, in 1939, little known outside literary circles, National Prize for Literature in his country, and with an oeuvre of fiction and as an essayist that for many make him someone who deserves the Cervantes Prize.

José Balza has come to Spain to participate in the international congress “The Canon of the Boom,” which is being celebrated in honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Vargas Llosa’s The Time of the Hero.

A congress that concludes on the 10th and has been organized by the Vargas Llosa Seminar, which is directed by Juan José Armas Marcelo, who along with the Peruvian Nobel Prize winner himself has revealed in public his desire to recover the figure of Balza as a member of that phenomenon of the Latin American novel produced in the sixties, along with other forgotten figures, such as Jorge Ibargüengoitia or Adriano González León.

But Balza’s visit to Spain also coincides with the publication of a 500-page volume with a selection of his short stories, from the publishing house Paréntesis, with an extensive prologue by the author from Granada Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga, a writer who also participates in the congress, and to whom Balza has dedicated an essay and whose name forms part of the lecture the writer will give today in Valladolid with the title “Before, During and After: Meneses, Onetti, Pitol y Pérez Zúñiga.”

Balza, of whom Julio Cortázar said that his prose was “an experience at once deep and fascinating,” explains in an interview with EFE that the “Boom” was for him like a river into which he dove “like a scuba diver in fascinating, but unknown waters.”

“Because Borges, Onetti, Guillermo Meneses or Ramos Sucre —the predecessors— were known waters, but then that resonance that existed with Vargas Llosa, Cortázar, Fuentes... the books that came to us from Seix Barral... it was fascinating,” he says.

But Balza, whose first book Marzo anterior came out in 1965, didn’t have that commercial visibility outside Latin America, and he doesn’t know why. “It might have to do with the personal attitude of each writer; in my case, I don’t know, it could be a feeling I’ve always had, not of being set apart, nor of solitude, but it’s as if literature existed somewhere else, and I approach it as if I were not myself, in another manner, from another shore,” he explains.

The author of Percusión, his greatest work, within an oeuvre so prolific with more than sixty titles of novels, short stories and essays, thinks that another forgotten writer is Sergio Pitol, “who turns even the most degrading matters into works of art and a traveler of the world who recovers unusual languages, even Russian ones.”

A great admirer of Cortázar and Octavio Paz, Balza’s work —his “narrative exercises”—, which is framed by nature and the river that witnessed his birth, is moved primarily by his concern for the human condition.

“I have a great curiosity for beings, I’m like a vampire, attentive to every living thing I see, and what I like is that a lot of people don’t realize what they’re living, of the conflict in which they live,” he explains.

In the prologue to the book of short stories, Pérez Zúñiga says that “reading Balza is a full experience. To not read him is to lose.”

Zúñiga assures that Balza stands out for a number of qualities that are rare in a single writer: “The impeccable invoice and sensuality of his language, the varied invention, the subtlety of his thought, the capacity to amalgamate by playing with structures and plots, to propose rhythms and inquietudes that come from experience, from dreams or from another dimension that is found in some invisible place in reality...”

Balza says that in the field of the essay today there remains much to be done, more than in the novel or in poetry. And that for him, concretely in the genre of the essay there remains plenty to be accomplished, because he has pending debts with the past of the Americas and with the present.

{ Carmen Sigüenza, La Información (Madrid), 9 November 2012 }

No comments: