A promising Bolivian author hidden in Houston
In 2020, the renowned writer from Cochabamba, Rodrigo Hasbún published Los años invisibles (The Invisible Years).
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When Bolivian writer Rodrigo Hasbún is asked about his migratory experience, he always thinks of his Palestinian grandfather, who arrived in Bolivia when he was 17 years old, and how he had to make an effort to learn the language and customs, to assimilate as much as possible and to get used to the idea that he would not return to Palestine for a long time.
"Then, emigrating was a very strong experience. Now it is different, we are much more present in the place we have left, more connected, talking to the people there every day, reading the news.... What does it mean to live in more than one place at the same time, to be suspended between places, wanting to go and wanting to come back at the same time," Hasbún asked himself in an online talk held at Casa América Catalunya (in Barcelona) last year.
Hasbún, born in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1981, belongs to a new generation of Bolivian writers who have managed to cross borders and carve a niche for themselves on the international literary scene by appealing to such universal themes as identity, migration, rootedness and culture, beyond maps and customs.
"Migration is a crucial experience in today's Bolivia," insisted Hasbún, author of novels such as Los afectos (2015), translated into more than 10 languages, and Los años invisibles (Literatura Random House, 2020), among others.
In Los afectos, the author tells the story of Hans Ertl, an eccentric German who worked as a cameraman for filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and who, after the war, emigrates to La Paz with his three daughters and wife.
"I am very interested in the experience of the characters, their position in those places, how the myth of origin is falling: what does it mean to leave, to arrive, the possibility of leaving or arriving," explained Habsún, who has lived in Houston, in the United States, for more than 10 years.
His most recent novel, Los años invisibles, tells the story of two teenage friends who meet one night in a Houston bar to drink and remember their childhood in Cochabamba, a place they consider closed and full of prejudices, and to which they never want to return.
"All my characters have the option of reinventing themselves, of accommodating themselves to the new dynamics of a place from anonymity," explained the Bolivian writer.
Hasbún, who teaches creative writing classes in Spanish in Houston, believes that the most interesting literary exercise at this time is to value the great variety of Spanish around the world, which coexist door-to-door in places like Houston.
"There is the Colombian, Venezuelan, Mexican, Bolivian usage... our language has such an enormous richness that it forces you to take a position, to question it more deeply, and all of that ends up leading to the writing itself," Hasbún opined. "Until a few decades ago, literature in Latin American countries was written with the desire to reach a certain neutrality, but now it is rather the opposite, it investigates the differences, making twists and contaminations, without fearing local uses."