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Santiago Gamboa, the Colombian writer who left at 19 and returned at 50

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The 56-year-old writer Santiago Gamboa, following a Latin American literary tradition, lived through a miserable time in Paris. It happened in 1990 when he was 25. He had arrived from Madrid with one hand in front and one behind, ready to invent a life and become a novelist. When that didn’t work out, he worked as a poorly paid Spanish teacher and poorly paid dishwasher in a restaurant. In his pocket he kept one last bullet: the phone number of the then well-known Peruvian writer Julio Ramón Ribeyro, who had long lived in Paris, where he had arrived following the same tradition. Gamboa decided to call him:

“Mr. Ribeyro?”


—I’m Gamboa, I’d like to interview you.

“Uh, thanks, but I’m really depressed. Call next week.

He called several weeks with the same identical conversation. Until one afternoon when Gamboa slammed the door from one of those jobs and was desperate to give up. Tried again:

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“Mr. Ribeyro?”


“It’s for an interview.

“Wow, I’m just depressed.

-I also.

-And what happened?

Gamboa told him and Ribeyro replied: “It changes everything. Come tomorrow”. And everything changed: thanks to Ribeyro’s intervention, Gamboa started working as a journalist and found enough time and rest to write his first novels. The second, Losing is a matter of methodShe was a hit and got him out of the dishwasher job forever.

Gamboa recently visited Madrid to promote his latest novel entitled Number 11 Colombian psycho (Alfaguara), a fast-paced story with the structure of a police novel that reveals some of the chasms in Colombian society. The characters are the same as the previous one, The night is getting long the reticent prosecutor Jutsiñamuy and the journalists Julieta and Johana. “But it’s not a sequel,” Gamboa warns. “I used the same characters as the film director who is reprizing for a new film with the same actors because he was good at it.” Im The night will be long (Alfaguara) the subject of the evangelical church was addressed; including the so-called false positives: murders of slum youth by paramilitaries posing as fallen guerrillas to complete statistics and earn money and permits. 6,402 false positives were registered. It’s a well-known number in Colombia, a number full of political resonance.

Ultimately, beyond the plot and the protagonists, there is an attempt to portray contemporary Colombia: “Colombian society is screwed because it has suffered a lot. It’s hypocritical, violent, ignorant and there’s a lot of cruelty. Maybe because it’s a country of defeats, hence my novel Losing is a matter of method It was read like that. We have a tradition of defeat, a bit like artists progressing from defeat to defeat. An oligarchic system has always prevailed in Colombia. There are 2,000 rich families who are not rich because they have produced something. Amancio Ortega is rich because Zara was invented. The rich Colombians are rich without doing anything, their prey is the state, they have monopolies with the state, fraudulent contracts with the state, it’s the typical parasitic oligarchic class.”

In the Dark by Narco

The author is an unstoppable and witty conversationalist who strings together political diatribes, literary quotations and personal anecdotes. At the age of 19 he left his hometown of Bogotá to live in Madrid. “Because I left? Well, because my parents’ house was closed. My parents, both teachers, went to Heidelberg (Germany) and my brother to Milan. They said to me: ‘And you, where?’ And I’ve decided that Madrid”. He studied Hispanic Studies in Madrid, got to know the crazy city of the eighties, he celebrated Christmas Eve in a bar with a poet friend without losing sight of his goal: to become a novelist. “I’m the typical literary product of someone born into a house where there were 5,000 books. And from 14 to 18 I read Latin American writers: García Márquez of course, but also Cortázar, Borges, Puig, Fuentes and Vargas Llosa. And I discovered one thing, that’s what I wanted to be, a Latin American writer, not a Colombian. Being Colombian is irrelevant, it’s little. I speak of the literature of a continent, not of a country. And a few years later I realized something else: that I was privileged to have my classics alive. Vargas Llosa is still alive today. It’s as if a Frenchman could meet Balzac, Stendhal or a Spaniard Galdós.”

Another picture of Santiago Gamboa. jaime villanueva

From Madrid he jumped to Paris. He was a radio announcer, reporter in Sarajevo, correspondent for time in Paris, writer in Rome, consul in New Delhi, travel writer and columnist. Also author of checkmate, a book published in 1999 in which he recounted the arrest of the Cali cartel, directed by García Márquez. “I went with the secret agents, they took me to drug dealers’ houses, I took notes, and then I wrote at home. Later I met García Márquez once a month. He advised me, he told me `put more load here, reduce this part´. These encounters were of course a privilege for me. Basically we talked about the project for five minutes, he said: “Look, everything is fine” and then added: “We’re going to talk about the important thing”, which is literature. I once asked him, “Which writer would you like to have met?” And he replied, “Camus, just to ask him if he’d noticed Abroad suffers from a transient error beginning in the first movement”. The book was published in the form of an autobiography by General José Serrano Rosso. Signed by him. “I who wrote it appeared very small on the cover of the book. If I had written, the drug dealers could have killed me, or at least destroyed me.”

In 2015, at the age of 50, he decided to return to Colombia. There was a family reason: his father-in-law’s illness. But also something else intimate and collective at the same time: the peace process began and Colombia was preparing to become a new country. “That was before the vote. I told myself it’s time to go back. I wanted to be there and see that. I left when I was 19 and returned when I was 50. I was different and returned to a different place. Coming back is basically a literary question, and only literature can answer that question. Until then, my novels were always about a Colombian outside of Colombia. From that moment they would go to the new Colombia.” He does not deny that his country has disappointed him in many ways: “There was a catastrophe. The peace process lasted only three years. Now Colombia is at war again, with drug trafficking increasing, violence increasing, leaders being assassinated, demobilized guerrillas being assassinated. Unless the peace process is revived, Colombia will have a decade in its blood.” Yet Gamboa is undeterred by melancholy (another Latin American tradition) and is enthusiastic about the left-wing candidate for the next elections, which will be held on Sunday 19 my country , which has been done in so many European countries where I have lived. Petro’s program is social democratic. The question is if those 2,000 families will allow him to put it into practice if he wins.”

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Source elpais.com

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