As far as literature was concerned, the Caribbean coast didn’t exist. When literature gets separated from life and seals itself off in closed circles, then a gap appears and it’s filled by the provincials . . . They save literature when it’s become rhetoric.And,
At age twenty I already had a literary background that was enough for me to write everything I’ve written . . . I don’t know how I discovered the novel. I thought that what interested me was poetry . . . I don’t know . . . I can’t remember when it was I realized that the novel was what I needed to express myself . . . You guys can’t imagine what it meant for a scholarship kid from the Coast enrolled at the Liceo de Zipaquirá to have access to books .. Probably Kafka’s The Metamorphosis” was a revelation . . . It was in 1947 . . . I was nineteen . . . I was doing my first year of law school . . . I remember the opening sentences, it reads exactly thus: “As Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” . . . Holy shit! When I read that I said to myself, “This isn’t right! . . . Nobody had told me this could be done! . . . Because it really can be done! . . . So then I can! . . . Holy shit! . . . That’s how my grandmother told stories . . . The wildest things, in the most natural way.”
And next day I set out, just like that, next day at eight o’clock in the morning, to try to find out what the hell had been done in the novel from the beginnings of humanity up to myself. So I latched onto the novel in rigorous order, let’s say from the Bible up to what was being written at that time. Beginning then, for six years, I didn’t do literature by myself, I stopped studying and dropped out of everything. I started writing a series of stories that were completely intellectual. They were my first stories, published in El Espectador. The chief problem I had when I began writing those stories was that of other writers: what to write about.
But after the April 9 riots in Bogotá, when I had nothing left except the clothes on my back, I left for the Coast and started work there, at a newspaper. And then the subjects started to invade me. I started encountering an entire reality I’d left behind, on the Coast, which I couldn’t interpret because of a lack of literary grounding. That was the first invasion, to such an extent that I’d write as if in a fever.
I’ve a great deal of affection for Leaf Storm. Even lots of compassion for that guy who wrote it. I can see him perfectly. A 22- or 23-year-old kid who feels he’s not going to write anything else in life, feels it’s his only chance, and he tries to throw in everything he remembers, everything he’s learned about literary technique and sophistication from every author he’s seen. At that time I was catching up, I was into the English and North American novelists. And when the critics start finding my influences in Faulkner and Hemingway, what they find—it’s not that they’re not right, but in some other way—is that when I’m confronted with that whole reality on the Coast, and I start connecting with my experiences literarily . . . the best way to tell it, I realize, isn’t Kafka’s . . . I realize the method is precisely that of the American novelists. What I find in Faulkner is that he’s interpreting and expressing a reality that looks a lot like Aracataca’s, like the banana zone’s. What they give me is the instrument . . .
When I re-examine Leaf Storm, I find exactly the readings that went into that work . . . I mean just like that! . . . It’s when I leave behind all those intellectual stories, when I realize that it was in my hands, in everyday life, in the brothels, the towns, the music . . . Precisely, I rediscover the vallenato songs. That’s when I met Escalona, you know. We started working together, we took one hell of a trip through La Guajira, where there were experiences I can now rediscover with the utmost naturalness. There’s a journey by Eréndira that is the journey I took through La Guajira with Escalona . . . There’s not a single line in any of my books that I can’t tell you which experience from reality it corresponds to. Always, there’s a reference to a concrete reality. Not a single book! And someday, with more time, we could verify that, we could start playing this game, to wit: this corresponds to such-and-such, that to another, and I can remember the day and all, exactly . . .
I remember perfectly when I was in Mexico, writing, describing Remedios the Beauty’s ascent to heaven. It was one of those paragraphs. I was aware, first, that without poetry she couldn’t rise. I’d say: she’s got to rise to poetry—and yet, with poetry and all she wouldn’t rise either. I was getting desperate because it was a reality within the book. I couldn’t dispense with it because it was a reality within the guidelines I’d imposed on myself. Because arbitrariness has rigid laws. And once I impose them on myself I can’t break them. I can’t say the rook moves this way and then, when it suits me, make it move another way. If I established how the rook and the knight move, I was screwed! . . . Because whatever I may do they’ve got to continue that way. Otherwise, it all turns into a holy mess. Within the reality of the book, Remedios the Beauty rose to heaven, but she wouldn’t rise even with poetry. I remember being desperate one day, ‘cause I was all caught up and stuck in it. I went out to the patio, where there was a big and beautiful black woman who did the housework, who was trying to hang the sheets with one of those clothes pins . . . And there was wind . . . And so if she hung the sheet this side, the wind blew it off that side . . . And she was completely crazy with those sheets . . . until she couldn’t take it any more and Aaaaahhhh! Aaaahhhh! . . . She cried out desperately! . . . Wrapped up in the sheets! . . . And up she went . . . And that’s how it was with everything.(Via Tingle Alley)