When Hugo Chávez came to power, María Elena Morán (Maracaibo, 37 years old) was 13 years old.
At the time she entered the university, the Bolivarian revolution was at its peak: she had gone through the climaxes of the attempted coup and the oil strike.
A Journalism student, she supported the Government as a citizen, happy to be living the opportunity to have the rebels in power, at a time when, for her, there was a certain promise on the horizon.
Today, this young Venezuelan writer living in Brazil refers to the situation in her native country as "failure."
This disappointment is something that she shares with Nina, the protagonist of her novel
De ella Volver a cuando
, which has won the 2022 Café Gijón Award and has just been published in Siruela.
Venezuela: the literature of chaos
The novel, told through the prism of five members of a family, reflects this collective, but also individual, intimate disappointment.
In the midst of a national crisis, which leaves the poorest neighborhoods of the cities without electricity or drinking water, Nina leaves her daughter Elisa in the care of her mother, Graciela, to seek luck in Brazil and be able to bring them with her later. .
This happens after the death of her father and Graciela's partner, Raúl, a pillar of her life.
“I started writing in 2018, when those images of the border full of Venezuelans emerged.
For me, that was a gigantic impossibility that completely overwhelmed me.
My father had died a few years ago and suddenly I saw the revolution, which had been mine, dying, and the country collapsing.
Those three mourners were together," Morán recounts with a soft but accurate voice,
This topic had her “completely taken”.
So she undertook this writing-catharsis that became first her doctoral thesis in Creative Writing —by then she was already living in São Paulo— and later the winning novel in a prestigious competition.
Morán reflects the mourning for the loss of his father with the character of Raúl, a dead man who avoids being reunited with his wife, who does not stop invoking him.
In this sense, he is part of the Latin American tradition of magical realism, in which ghosts and the living interact.
“It is a heritage that is part of me, but it was not something that I incorporated on purpose.
Understanding the dead as part of our life, as entities made from memory, is something real”, comments the writer, who says she draws on sources such as Juan Rulfo, William Faulkner or Toni Morrison.
Although she does not consider herself an exile —she went to Cuba to study film when she still did not have a critical look at what was happening in Venezuela, and even being on the island opened her eyes—, she does know very closely what means leaving your country: “I am not part of that diaspora, but I consider myself a migrant, because I am in Brazil, where I ended up for personal reasons.
My environment, on the other hand, is part of it: my sister left during the crisis, my mother recently went to Brazil and I have around 40 people in my family who left the country.
I know of his stories and his traumatic daily life.
The episode in which Graciela has to sell the house at a bargain price has a lot to do with autobiography”.
There is a parallelism, according to Morán, between the state of the country and her literature, "impoverished as a reflection of national misery."
Venezuelan writer María Elena Morán, winner of the 2022 Café Gijón Novel Prize. Jaime Villanueva
That is why exile, self-induced or forced, is a central theme of
Volver a cuando
While Nina is looking for a life in Brazil, the character of Camilo, her ex-partner and Elisa's father, who disappeared from her life when they divorced, reappears.
He is a Chavista politician, previously a rebel, who paradoxically comes from a wealthy family and who now intends to flee the country and take the girl with him to the United States.
He is, in a way, the villain of the story—he even wears a pirate patch, having lost an eye in a pathetic attack on him—and he is the only second-person narrator in the book, something very rare in literature.
This is how the author justifies that diegetic decision: “Camilo is a man totally divided between the Camilo he is in practice and the Camilo he thought he was.
He wanted to develop the character in that conflicting dialogue with himself.
He's gone through all these phases from being a rebel, to being a militant, to being a bureaucrat in an office, to being a maverick who ends up going with his rich parents to America, like he's going back to square one.
He wanted to show how he deals with those identities, with those internal struggles.
Hence this debate between those voices that speak of you”.
It was precisely these risky choices —to the surprise of Morán— that the jury of the Café Gijón Award highlighted: the point of view of the narration, the colloquial language, the Zulian voseo (“you want”,
Morán says that she was inspired by a story very close to her, “of incredible impunity”, to write the kidnapping of Elisa by Camilo to North America.
Crossing the north-south border, “Mexico-Iuesei”, as the girl says in the book, would mean a defeat for Nina.
For this reason, Mexico, still in the geopolitical —although not geographical— south, is a symbol of hope in history.
“That iconic border allowed me to be on this side, where Latin America is still.
That question of remaining further south is a point of honor, a glimpse of victory," Morán says.
Nina's story is, once the fictional filters are removed, also her own.
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