There is a structural, subterranean violence that is pervading shaken Peru these days as it has been for centuries, a “latent but more dangerous violence,” as Gustavo Rodríguez, winner of the Alfaguara Novel Prize 2023, puts it: Cien cuyes, la la winner work der twenty-sixth edition of the award. The jury, chaired by the Argentine writer Claudia Piñeiro (and complemented by the translator Carolina Orloff, the bookseller Rafael Arias García, the writer Juan Tallón, the journalist from EL PAÍS and writer Javier Rodríguez Marcos and the editor-in-chief of Alfaguara, Pilar Reyes) lifts the award-winning work as “a tragi-comic novel set in present-day Lima that reflects one of the great conflicts of our time: we are becoming ever more long-lived and ever more anti-ageing. A moving book whose protagonists care, are cared for and defend dignity to the last.”
Rodríguez (Lima, 54 years old) has assured that the news received at dawn in Lima “is the best news that one can have on a day that does not bode well” in relation to the political situation in his country. The author sheds light on his own life to explain the reason for writing a novel about old age and how it is dealt with in today’s society. “I’ve already lived half my life and you start to wonder what’s to come and you see the decay in your mentors and older people and it affects more than you think. It is also due to the death of elderly people close to me, mainly my father-in-law. And the deadly mark that the Covid has left in my country,” he admitted after finding out he was the winner of the award. With all the interest, there is also a social component: “Death is talked about less than sex. It can be verified by the number of euphemisms we use when someone dies. We totally avoid him. The less we talk about something, the more damage you do when you dodge it. You have to talk about death more and with more humor,” he assured EL PAÍS, before adding: “You can’t get into these topics without humor”.
The guinea pigs in the title are the domestic rodents that the protagonist tries to buy to change her life and that the author, as he has explained, wants them to be known as another Peruvian contribution to everyone’s Spanish. The novel accompanies Eufrasia Vela in her daily struggle for survival through the streets of Lima. Frasia, as she is known, takes care of several elderly people in an affluent neighborhood and develops an intense relationship with them that will bring them to a crossroads in the face of their inevitable demise. The winning novel also delves into the abyss between classes, that violence that cannot be seen. “Euprasia sums up the enormous number of women caring for them in my country. In their case of living in a post-colonial society, there is an additional ingredient: the caregiver is often racially diverse. She not only puts her whole heart into the service of those she cares about, but does so despite the prejudices that society has towards her. She’s the friend, the mother, the company we’d all like to have, but in a country like Peru, she might even be denied the ability to be a person like you. And that’s terrible, but it’s considered part of the family in quotes, which doesn’t mean that society necessarily sees you as part of that family.
visions of violence
The author of Thirty Kilometers at Midnight (Alfaguara, 2022) draws a direct link between Eufrasia and the protagonist of his celebrated madrugada (Alfaguara, 2018), both united by the violence they endure: “Eufrasia is more caring than Trinidad , but it is riddled with the same social deficiencies that live with the vast multiracial majority of my country. Here the violence is more subtle, it has to do with not recognizing, with ignoring the other. And it can be seen in politics: a great crowd from the forgotten non-white regions come to white Lima between the citations to demand this forgetfulness”.
A voracious reader since a childhood marked by Jules Verne, he later went through Felisberto Hernández and the rich young tradition of his country (Ricardo Palma, Alfredo Bryce Echenique and Julio Ramón Ribeyro to reach Mario Vargas Llosa), but he does not hide The Influence of audiovisual media. “Although I’ve been a drinker of traditional paper literature since childhood, at this point in my life I can’t deny that I’m part of a generation that has been influenced by audiovisual media and Cien Cuyes has a lot of cinematic language.”
A publicist by training, he gradually left the profession to devote himself to literature. “Just as I plead for a dignified death in the novel, I plead for an everyday life with less money but more inner peace,” he joked on the phone shortly after the verdict was announced. “I corrected myself over time,” he later assured at the press conference. The Alfaguara Prize will no doubt contribute to this. The prize is endowed with 175,000 dollars (around 162,000 euros), a sculpture by Martín Chirino and simultaneous publication throughout the Spanish-speaking world. The novel hits bookstores on March 23. The editorial received 706 manuscripts, including 296 from Spain, 112 from Argentina, 99 from Mexico, 81 from Colombia, 43 from the United States, 28 from Chile, 27 from Peru and 20 from Uruguay. In any case, far from the record of 2,428 original works in 2021.
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