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A Whirlwind Tour of the Latin American Imagination–From Mexico to Argentina

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The following guest post is a Q&A conducted by Marie Arana, co-director of the Library of Congress National Book Festival.

Mystery! Drama! Romance! The 2015 National Book Festival will enjoy a rich infusion of all these in the Latin American authors program slated for the new International Pavilion. Among the many celebrated writers who will be featured–from Mexico all the way down to Argentina–are five who were chosen by a jury of Latin American scholars as the best young writers under the age of 39: Andrés Neuman of Argentina, Alejandro Zambra of Chile, Juan Gabriel Vásquez of Colombia, Álvaro Enrigue of Mexico, and Santiago Roncagliolo of Peru. When the literary magazine Granta did its own reckoning a few years ago, listing the best young novelists in the Spanish language, among them, once again, were Neuman, Zambra, and Roncagliolo.

We asked three novelists–Santiago Roncagliolo (author of the chilling thriller “Red April”), Alejandro Zambra (best known for his eerie, haunting “Bonsai”), and Juan Gabriel Vásquez (whose latest release is his riveting “The Informers”)–for their comments on Thomas Jefferson’s famous line, “I cannot live without books.” We especially wanted to know whether there was one particular book they couldn’t live without. Here’s what they had to say:

Santiago Roncagliolo
Santiago Roncagliolo
SANTIAGO RONCAGLIOLO: “The Black Corsair,” by Emilio Salgari, literally saved my life. During the 1980s, when I returned to Peru [from Mexico], it was a country filled with bombs, blackouts, curfews . . . and my father’s old books. We children rarely left the house, but with “The Black Corsair,” I sailed the seven seas, dodged the hangman’s noose, and buried many treasures. Later, when I learned that Salgari had never left his little Italian village, I understood that I was going to live happily ever after, even if I never again ventured out into the street.

ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA: Yes, I could live without books, although it would be a very boring and silent world. Now that I think about it, though, I couldn’t live without the books of Natalia Ginzburg, although I read them eight years ago and have to accept that I lived without them for thirty years before that . . . I think that if I had to choose, I’d opt for the Complete Works of Franz Kafka and a lot of Chilean poetry. Also a few short books that I like very much and have read a thousand times, such as “My Friends,” by Emmanuel Bove, and “No One Writes to the Colonel,” by García Márquez. And, well, Borges, Perec, Clarice Lispector, Felisberto Hernández, Proust, the complete works of Walter Benjamin, in the end, a lot . . .

And, of all things, Juan Gabriel Vásquez ended up publishing his answer to us in the New York Times Book Review (“By the Book”) last Sunday:

Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Photo by Hermance Triay.
Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Photo by Hermance Triay.
JUAN GABRIEL VÁSQUEZ: [NYT: Your favorite novelist of all time?] JGV: “Right now it’s probably a creature of my invention called Tolstoyevsky: a great Russian who is able to write battle scenes as well as conflicts of the soul, whose astonishing eye for detail is matched by his great gift for making people talk, and who is second to none in describing the crossroads between the public life (history, politics) and the private existence of individuals.” [NYT: If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?] JGV: “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” which I read (except for some comedies) between the ages of 18 and 21. And no, I really don’t think this is cheating!”

Come hear these and many other enchanting writers from Latin America in the International Pavilion of the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival, 11:50 a.m. through 6:15 p.m., on Saturday, September 5, in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.


  1. Mi poema sobre el congreso de Washington.
    Mi corazón dice que existe un lugar el mas bonito y es mas grande es la libreria del congreso que esta situada en el corazon de Washington.
    Oh hermoso edificio oh desde allí exalta tu color cuantas historias? Cuantas poemas guardas dentro de ti .cuantas? Ensen .

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