Alberto Barrera Tyszka: “Hugo Chávez melodramatizó la política” / Javier Lafuente

Alberto Barrera Tyszka: “Hugo Chávez made politics melodramatic”

                                    [Photo: Camilo Rozo]

He was at his house in Caracas, in front of the TV, when he heard the news. Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, that man who would speak from eternity, who had erased time with his speeches, announced that he had cancer. Alberto Barrera Tyszka (Caracas, 1960) was surprised, like the rest of the country. “It was something that wasn’t factored into any of the hypotheses,” recalls the author in a Bogotá café. He’s the winner of the latest Tusquets Prize in Spain for Patria o muerte, a novel born of various texts he was already writing and which were finally brought together by Chávez’s illness. The resulting book is a radiography of Venezuela today and it consecrates the writer, author of the biography Hugo Chavez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela's Controversial President, perhaps the best biography of the Bolivarian leader, as the greatest exponent of his country’s literature, and in good measure of Latin America’s.

QUESTION. You return to Venezuela with this novel. What moved you to do that?

ANSWER. At first, I had no intention of approaching Chavismo through literature, probably as a reaction to the biography I wrote. But I was interested in the process in which Chávez’s illness appears, because I’m interested in the fragility of human beings, I try to connect with the reader through pain. It seemed to me like an ideal context for trying to inquire about Venezuelans and what we were living.

Q. What did you discover?

A. The novel tries to repeatedly address the topic of charisma. What happened for Venezuelans to become hooked, in favor of or against, on the same figure at the same time. But it isn’t a novel about Chávez, in the end he’s in the background, dying, it’s a novel about the Venezuelans who are living under that spell.

Q. Has that spell continued?

A. Chávez insisted a great deal on constructing himself as a myth, in sacralizing his own figure and, of course, the corporation that remained after that lives. But I thought that myth would last longer in the lives of Venezuelans. It’s not that present, or his heirs have squandered it very quickly. They’ve misspent the inheritance they were given in a quick and vulgar manner.

Q. It’s a novel, but it’s written as if it were non-fiction.

A. It engages in a very strong dialogue with the real, it includes many things I’ve heard. The writer is a type of spy who’s always stealing things he hears, looks at, watches. The stories kept emerging. One was from a novel I was writing before Chávez’s illness. There are people in literature who advance with plans, I’m not like that, I’m not too methodical, I advance blindly.

Q. On December 6th there will be elections for the National Assembly. How do you think change can happen in Venezuela?

A. I like to think that we’ve lived under the threat of a political violence that won’t materialize. I definitely think the opposition can win. But, how will the Government administer that triumph, that’s the problem. They want to present democratic alternation as a crime. Chavismo doesn’t realize that it failed in its attempt to impose its model. The only possible exit for Venezuelans is to accept our complexity, to overcome the mediocrity that polarization represents. There’s no possibility of building a country if we can’t count on each other. Those who think history is an interruptor and that we’ll return to 1998, before Chávez came to power, are mistaken.

Q. What have you felt after writing something so real, but so harsh about your country?

A. I was very scared it would sound like an op-ed novel, that people would think it was written in order to denounce. No, I don’t want to denounce a regime or anything like that, but rather to tell the story of the plurality that exists in the country.

Q. Plurality and polarization.

A. It’s part of Venezuela’s reality, children who don’t talk to their parents, estranged siblings. Chávez made politics melodramatic. A moment arrived when it seemed Venezuelans had been born to attack or support a government.

Q. What type of novel is Venezuela?

A. I think there’ll soon be a lot of books that have to do with the country’s situation. The time is right for writers to begin writing or thinking about what we’re living. People have started to find refuge and seek something in books that they haven’t found in the media, which is reliability. There has been a resurgence of history books, of journalism. The media polarization makes everyone unreliable. Although there’s also the phenomenon of investigative journalists who’ve moved to websites, very serious people with acknowledged prestige have been doing investigative journalism from those pages: Armando.info, Runrunes, Contrapunto...

Q. What do you enjoy the most when it comes to writing?

A. Television is work that feeds me. What I enjoy the most is literature. Even more than the column I write for El Nacional. When I started to write columns 20 years ago it was something more personal. Now if I write about the clouds I get stoned by people. There’s a type of dictatorship of political urgency and society is in submission to it. As if no other vital spaces existed.

Q. What do telenovelas provide you when it comes time to write literature?

A. They’re very different formats. In literature the imagination and ambiguity are fundamental. Television can’t handle that complexity, it’s a kingdom closer to the stereotype. But it’s given me more efficiency for dialogue and a better idea of narrative speed.

Q. A prestigious scriptwriter, you won the Herralde Prize, now the Tusquets. You’re touched by success.

A. No, it’s not true. I wouldn’t even mention it. I’m very disciplined. Prizes give you a sensational push, but it doesn’t mean you’ll write better. You can’t believe that.

{ Javier Lafuente, Babelia, El País, 26 November 2015 }

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