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Bolivian writer Edmundo Paz Soldán during his book presentation in Casa América Madrid. Photo: Casa América
Bolivian writer Edmundo Paz Soldán during his book presentation at Casa América Madrid. Photo: Casa América

Hallucinogenic plants, video games and climate change in the Amazon

New York-based Bolivian writer Edmundo Paz Soldán published 'La mirada de las plantas,' a novel that blends activism and science-fiction

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"If the left and the right in Latin America agree on anything, it is that the economy must function on the basis of extractivism."

This strong statement was made on May 11 by the New York-based Bolivian writer Edmundo Paz Soldán during the Spain presentation of his latest novel, La mirada de las plantas (The gaze of the plants), a thrilling novel set in the Amazon jungle where dystopia and fantastic literature are mixed with environmental activism.

The novel tells the story of Rai, a psychiatrist hired to participate in a project that seeks to emulate, through virtual reality, the hallucinogenic effects of a powerful Amazonian plant known as "alita de cielo," and ends up being the excuse to denounce the indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources in the Amazon.

"The model should change today, but no government is willing to pay the price of the transition towards the defense of the environment," he said during a talk held at Casa América Madrid with the editor of Almadía, the Mexican publishing house that has published his novel.

"With his usual style, between dystopia and fantasy literature with video games as a backdrop, Paz Soldán wonders about the future at a time of uncertainty," said Jaime Cedillo, culture critic of El Español,  although the experience that triggered writing the novel took place more than a decade ago. It was when he visited "zone 0 of the environmental crisis in America."

The specific area is Cobija, a rubber exploitation zone in the Amazon located on the border between Bolivia and Brazil. When he set out to write a report, the interviewees told him they preferred not to identify themselves. Thus, the novel La mirada de las plantas was born. It's a novel where the past and the extractivist presence in the Amazon intermingle, as well as hallucinogenic plants and virtual reality video games.

The New York-based writer is a professor of Latin American literature and director of the Romance Studies faculty at Cornell University. He has 12 novels in his career, among them Rio fugitivo (1998), Norte (2011), Los días de la peste (2017).

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