BOGOTA – Some 17 years have passed since Juan Gabriel Vasquez published his first book of short stories, “Lovers on All Saints’ Day,” and he now returns to the genre like someone getting back together with an old friend in “Canciones para el Incendio” (Songs for the Fire), a book of short stories in which he looks for the same answers he has looked for in his novels.
“This book is always asking why human beings hurt each other and how do we deal with the harm others do to us. Those are the basic questions throughout the book,” he told EFE in an interview.
Nine short stories make up “Canciones para el Incendio,” published by Alfaguara. In some he himself appears as a character, while in others he goes on to study the burden of history, the darkest twists and turns of politics, the Colombian conflict and the origin of violence.
But yes, Vasquez warns readers beforehand that the questions he wants answered are the same that Sophocles asked 25 centuries ago, and “if I find the answers it would be more than fortunate.”
“The stories in this book are obsessed with the weight of the past on our shoulders, something I couldn’t free myself of by a change of genre,” admitted the author of “The Shape of the Ruins” and “The Sound of Things Falling.”
He admits being “obsessed” with this subject, which is “often” noticeable in the characters of his short stories.
Among them “are people for whom the past continues to be present and the ghosts of the past continue to shape their lives.”
As he did in “The Shape of the Ruins,” the writer born in Bogota in 1973 has again made himself into a character, something that is hard, he admits, since writing from his biography “isn’t just a very difficult exercise that is always accompanied by a certain shame, but also, and paradoxically, it reaps illumination from an experience.”
“It’s never been the same for me to write about something that happened to me, that created a special impression, that unsettled me in a particular way, it’s never been the same to take that experience and explore it through the mask of an invented character as it is to put myself in the role of the narrator and try to explore it that way,” he said.
For the author, that Juan Gabriel Vasquez character allows him to put himself in the “line of moral fire.”
“And the results interest me because these stories are based on some very strong, very strange experiences, and I wanted to explore exactly what I felt,” he said.
“The talent we humans have to invent our own biography is very present in many of the stories in the book,” said Vasquez, winner of the 2011 Alfaguara Prize for the Novel and finalist for the Vargas Llosa Biennial Novel Award.