Authors hoping to shape a new Colombia


President Juan Manuel Santos returned to power last year, he promised a “new Colombia” with a peace deal after five decades of armed conflict with rebel forces. It is a future the country’s leading writers are hoping to shape. The article mentions Santiago Gamboa [see photo below], Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Juan Gabriel Vasquez [photo above], and Hector Abad, among others.


Colombia’s famous walled city of Cartagena overflows with tropical colours, architectural gems and loud African-Caribbean music. Rising above it is the sound of Spanish – spoken at full throttle – as writers gather to consider their role in the country.

Santiago Gamboa is one of them – author of the acclaimed novel Necropolis, and a forthright political columnist. “Cartagena is special,” he tells me. “A safe place where we seek refuge. Even politicians relax and walk around in shorts.”

This year is an important one for Colombia, and for Gamboa – as well as turning 50 years old, it is also 20 years since his first novel and 30 since he left for exile in Spain. Now he is back.  “I’ve returned to Colombia because the peace process is for us a historical moment. I want to write about it. Millions of us left in the bad years. Now we’re returning – 2015 is a make-or-break year. I left, Colombia was dark and conservative – lost, like an island. There were few books in the shops, just photocopies. My novels were printed in Spain.  Now Colombia has books and publishers. Everything is modernising, even our minds.

“In Anglo-Saxon countries,” he continues, “there’s a big gap between politics and fiction. Not here. We treasure intellectuals. My form of activism is writing.”

‘Parallel government’

Colombia’s most famous author, Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, also combined politics and fiction, and was an unflinching critic of the country’s dark deeds.

He died last year, but lives on through special tours, conversations and the architecture and streets of Cartagena fictionalised in his magical realist novels, like One Hundred Years of Solitude. [. . .]

Reclaiming ‘our promised land’

download (1)There is another writer I have been waiting to meet in Cartagena, so in demand is Hector Abad.

His smile lights up the room. Tears come easily to his eyes. His story is well known – although his father was murdered by the paramilitaries in 1987 he never left Colombia.

As well as writing fiction, he runs a bookshop in his home city of Medellin, teaches at Medellin University, is director of its new library and has just launched the first ever national literature prize.

“For many of us,” he explains, “Colombia was the promised land. I dreamed, I stayed – always hoping. It’s now time to reclaim our promised land.”

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