What to Read from Latin America, Part II: Venezuela

by Simone Visentin

After discovering three amazing literary works from Mexico, now it is time for a Latin American country that perhaps is not internationally known for its literature but which is home to great authors and literary works: Venezuela. According to Guillermo Parra, Venezuelan blogger and writer, this country has grown exponentially in the quality and quantity of literary works produced, undergoing a literary boom. However, Parra believes that this boom is only at a national level and that Venezuelan literature is still dimmed at an international level. This is why it is so difficult to find literary works from Venezuela translated into English–but luckily for you, I was able to find three great pieces of Venezuelan literature to add to your bookshelves.

Doña Barbara by Rómulo Gallegosdona barbara  
Translated by Robert Malloy, 2012

Published in 1929 and written by Rómulo Gallegos, this is perhaps one of the most well-known Latin American novels and is considered by many Venezuelans the most important novel of their country’s literature. The story begins on a large ranch on the plains of Apure, Venezuela. The reader is lead across the vast landscapes of Venezuela, class struggle, and generations throughout the course of the book: from families warring over land, to an indigenous girl, the titular Barbara, who becomes a powerful woman in her own right. Spells, seduction, and innocence are all at stake here, as the reader will see.

Gallegos presents an interesting theme where there is a tension between the civilized and the wild anarchists. Each character of the novel has a symbolical representation. For example, Doña Barbara represents wildness and barbarism while Santos represents civilization and progress. Marisela represents the good raw material that civilization can mold and Mister Danger represents the contempt that foreigners have towards Venezuelans. Gallegos portrays Doña Barbara excellently and makes her the most important character in the novel. Moreover, he gives us a rich story of Venezuela full of description and background creating an amazing novel for the world to read.

Selected-works-sucreJosé Antonio Ramos Sucre: Selected Works by José Antonio Ramos Sucre
Translated by Guillermo Parra, 2012

This book is a collection of works selected by Guillermo Parra of José Antonio Ramos Sucre, a Venezuelan poet, professor, diplomat and scholar. José Antonio Ramos Sucre was a member of the Sucre family, a renowned family in Venezuela, and nephew of Antonio José de Sucre a Venezuelan independence leader and the second President of Bolivia. At university he studied Law, Letters and Languages (ancient and modern Greek and Sanskrit). After finishing his studies, he became proficient in Portuguese, Latin, Danish, English, French, German, Italian and Swedish. Consequently, he worked as a translator and interpreter for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela. After being published in 1956 by the Ministry of Education in the collection of the Biblioteca Popular Venezolana, he became an example of excellence for future generations.

In 2012, Guillermo Parra decided to provide an English translation of his poetry with this book for the English-speaking world to admire Sucre’s work and to make Venezuelan literature more visible and known. Guillermo Parra is a Venezuelan-American blogger who lives in the United States and has written about Venezuelan literature for more than ten years in his blog called Venepoetics. The main focus of Parra’s posts surrounds the issue that Venezuelan literature is having a boom internally and within Latin American borders but is still widely unknown in the United States and other English-speaking countries, due to the lack of translated pieces available to English-speaking readers. If you love poetry and you want to contribute to the spread of Venezuelan literature in the world, then this book should definitely be on your bookshelf.

Intrigued? Here is a snippet of “El mensajero from La torre de Timón” (1925) translated by Parra as “The Messenger” in José Antonio Ramos Sucre’s Selected Works:

El mensajero
La luna, arrebatada por las nubes impetuosas, dora apenas el vértice de los sauces trémulos, hundidos con la tierra, en un mar de sombras.
Yo cavilaba a orillas del lago estéril, delante del palacio de mármol, fascinado por el espanto de las aguas negras…

The Messenger
The moon, seized by the impetuous clouds, barely gilds the vortex of the tremulous willows, sunken, with the earth, in a sea of shadows.
I was pondering on the shores of the sterile lake, facing the marble palace, fascinated by the menace of the black waters…

Memories of Altagracia by Salvador Garmendiamemorias de altagracia
Translated by Jeremy Munday, 1998

Published in 1974, Memories of Altagracia is one of Salvador Garmendia’s best works. This is a collection of stories that depict the idea of turning the back to the alienating and dirty life of the big city to take refuge in the harmless and innocent world of childhood through a child’s eyes. The story begins with Lame Marinferinfero inviting a little boy to go with him over the rooftops of a small Venezuelan town called Altagracia. The man and the boy go on a magical adventure where they explore together the fantastical world of childhood. Altamira is transformed into a magnificent mix of reality and imagination, past and present, nostalgic feelings, a determined force to fulfill the ideals and dreams of childhood, as well as a number of peculiar characters. However, this world becomes more and more harsh on the boy as he goes through the journey. This is an incredible story and thanks to Jeremy Munday, it is available in English for the English-speaking world to read. This book allows readers to immerse themselves in a magical world and relive the incredible journey of childhood.

Simone Visentin is a student in Toronto, Canada. He is working to complete his degree in SimoneCommunication Studies and a certificate in Spanish-English translation at York University. He is passionate about languages and music. He speaks Italian, Spanish, English and French. He is also a songwriter, music producer and Radio Host for Radio Glendon.

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