Escribir afuera: Cuentos de intemperies y querencias. Compiled by Raquel Rivas Rojas, Katie Brown, and Liliana Lara. Madrid: Kálathos Ediciones, 2021. 382 pages.
A woman travels to France in search of family roots in a small town, which would allow her to get a foreign passport to escape from Venezuela. Another visits the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul and, upon seeing the objects that fill the lives of characters from an Orhan Pamuk novel, revisits the memories of the numerous objects she has left behind, which populated the many transitions in her own life. Three Venezuelan siblings, each living in a different country, must gather in Germany to scatter their father’s ashes. An immigrant in Spain, a “greaser and oddball,” tries to trace Caracas over Madrid. These stories of migrations, by Silda Cordolini, Raquel Rivas Rojas, Alberto Barrera Tyszka, and Lena Yau, are just a small sample of the anthology Escribir afuera: Cuentos de intemperies y querencias, compiled and edited by Raquel Rivas Rojas, Katie Brown, and Liliana Lara, which was published in 2021, thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of these three writers and the support of David Alejandro Malavé, at the head of Kálathos, a Venezuelan publisher based in Spain.
The publication of the anthology Escribir afuera crystallises a phenomenon that has emerged in recent years, in which migration and exile have taken more than six million people out of Venezuela due to the critical social, political, and economic situation that has affected the country in the twenty-first century. This has been the largest migrant crisis in Latin American history. This means that, for the first time, the country has a notable number of writers and intellectuals beyond its borders. For that reason, Venezuelan literature is gaining visibility; it is flowing throughout the world. Currently, foreign readers are getting to know poets and authors living within and outside the country like never before. Venezuelan literature has captured international attention, which has discovered and lauded the solid careers of Rafael Cadenas and Yolanda Pantin, or given prizes to young authors like Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles, Rodrigo Blanco Calderón, and Karina Sainz Borgo. However, despite the great vitality that the short story has always had in Venezuela, the genre has been less recognised abroad than poetry or novels. This magnificent anthology reminds us that the short story has always been a powerful genre in the country. Think about emblematic names like Julio Garmendia, Guillermo Meneses, Alfredo Armas Alfonzo, Adriano González León, Laura Antillano, Antonieta Madrid, all of the highest quality yet unknown or almost unknown outside of Venezuela, among other reasons, because during the twentieth century there was not a publishing policy to take Venezuelan books to other countries.
This anthology settles this debt to the short story. It brings together 31 authors who live and write in nine different countries. From Argentina write Gustavo Valle, Gabriel Payares and Salvador Fleján; from the Dominican Republic, Federico Vegas; from Israel, Liliana Lara; from Mexico, Alberto Barrera Tyszka, Gisela Kozak, and Fedosy Santaella; from Peru, Mariana Libertad Suárez; from Scotland, Raquel Rivas Rojas; from Spain, Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez, Lena Yau, Juan Carlos Chirinos, Rodrigo Blanco Calderón, and Freddy Gonçalves; from the United States, Miguel Gomes, Dinapiera Di Donato, Israel Centeno, Raquel Abend, Naida Saavedra, María Dayana Fraile, Keila Vall de la Ville, and José Luis Palacios; from Venezuela, Krina Ber, Kira Kariakin, John Manuel Silva, Hugo Prieto, Carolina Lozada, Marianela Cabrera, Silda Cordoliani, and Rubi Guerra.
This anthology explores Venezuelan migration from different thematic angles: the—in some cases, violent—rupture in the identity of the migrant, the tension between nostalgia and the rejection of the country of origin, the encounter with alterity, contrasting spaces, intimate reflections, and confrontations when faced with the lived experiences of migration.
In these texts, we find the fictionalization of new spaces in different countries. It is significant that of the eight authors writing from Venezuela, five of them have set their stories principally in foreign places. Moreover, several of them have lived abroad, although they have returned to their native land. For her part, Carolina Lozada, writing from Venezuela, develops a fictional place that we can suppose is a town in the Venezuelan Andes, but could just as easily be anywhere in the world. In some way, in these stories the territory of the country is blurred. Only two of the stories refer to those who leave from the perspective of those who stay, which seems to show the situation of “insilio,” taking refuge in the interiority of the characters, their estrangement from the place they inhabit.
In the anthology, there is a marked preponderance of stories that explore intimacy, the interior world of the characters: their feelings, nightmares, perceptions, the connections and disconnections in new territories, those left behind in Venezuela, their own ways of being in the world. In the stories, we see how migration has turned their lives upside down and led them to search for new identities. There is a distancing from the topic of politics, which has been present in a large amount of twenty-first century narrative—not in all of the stories, of course, but it is quite diminished in general. In the majority of cases, it is inferred from the small, individual stories of the characters or can be guessed at from scattered events. Politics is broached more openly in the stories by Rubi Guerra, Silda Cordoliani, and Marianela Cabrera, who live in Venezuela.
There are novelties in the language of these stories, which are less local and meant for new audiences. We see the appropriation of words from other Spanish-speaking countries (“coches” instead of “carros” for cars, “pisos” instead of “apartamentos” for apartments) or phrases in English, like in “I Beg Your Pardon” by Naida Saavedra. There are fewer Venezuelan idioms and the so-called vulgarities have almost disappeared. Our writers are aiming towards a wider audience than that of Venezuelan readers, but they are also trying to build a new Venezuelan literary community that is beginning to be articulated in cyberspace. This is no small thing. Blogs, social networks, and the possibility of immediate communication that the internet gives us have allowed for the creation of a network of writers who share their texts, who read one another and who, as in this case, have come together in an anthology.
To conclude, I have to highlight the quality of the whole book, which is very rich and varied. An anthology like this one gives us a plural perspective on new Venezuelan narrative and, as we have seen, despite the distances, the works seem to be in sync, just like their authors, forming new thematic networks, new sensibilities, and new ways to tell stories.
Luz Marina Rivas
Translated by Katie Brown