In Other Words

What They’re Reading: Bolivia’s Time of Rebellion

Juan Claudio Lechín was awarded Bolivia’s 2003 National Fiction Award for his novel La gula del picaflor (The Gluttony of the Hummingbird), in which seven seducers share their techniques and stories. FOREIGN POLICY: Describe Bolivia’s reading culture. Juan Claudio Lechín: Bolivia is a sharply divided society, and social and ethnic backgrounds often determine literary tastes. ...

Juan Claudio Lechín was awarded Bolivia’s 2003 National Fiction Award for his novel La gula del picaflor (The Gluttony of the Hummingbird), in which seven seducers share their techniques and stories.

FOREIGN POLICY: Describe Bolivia’s reading culture.

Juan Claudio Lechín: Bolivia is a sharply divided society, and social and ethnic backgrounds often determine literary tastes. For intellectuals, politicians, and academics, foreign authors still enjoy an authoritative status. Unfortunately, many Bolivians simply don’t read, whether due to illiteracy or high book prices. They often resort to photocopied books from the black market.

FP: What fiction do Bolivians enjoy?

JCL: The current foreign bestseller is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Popular modern local fiction includes Edmundo Paz Soldán’s El delirio de Turing (Turing’s Delirium), a novel about revolutionary Bolivian hackers fighting globalization, and Gary Daher Canedo’s El huésped (The Guest), a science fiction story set in Russia. Ramón Rocha Monroy’s novel Potosí 1600 takes readers back to a wealthy town under Spanish colonialism, and Giovanna Rivero’s Las camaleonas (The Chameleons) weaves the riveting life of a Bolivian middle-class woman into sophisticated prose.

FP: Has Bolivian literature freed itself from its staunch ideological divisions?

JCL: Apparently, yes. Themes of class struggle, socialism, and guerrilla heroes are waning. Current literature mirrors Bolivia’s search to blend imported ideas with our own. In the indigenous revival, anthropologist Xavier Albó’s 1976 book, Lengua y sociedad en Bolivia (Language and Society in Bolivia), has regained influence. Meanwhile, authors such as Adolfo Cárdenas and German Arauz juxtapose indigenous and Western identities. Their heroes use Spanish slang and romanticize poverty.

FP: What is the cultural legacy of the recent clashes between citizens and the government over energy policy?

JCL: The energy war was a moment of awakening, with the population communicating its discontent via Internet blogs, pamphlets, civil-society networks, and labor unions. Bolivia’s cocaleros (small coca growers) and peasants resort to an ancient oral tradition to communicate their new political ideas at village meetings and conventions. Popular leaders read books on Bolivia’s energy and the Bolivian economy, including Carlos Villegas’s Privatización de la industria petrolera en Bolivia (Privatization of the Gas Industry in Bolivia), Gonzalo Chávez’s Villazon Business School, and Tiempos de rebelión (Times of Rebellion) by Raúl Prada and other authors.

FP: Many Bolivians speak Quechua and Aymara rather than Spanish. What reading options do they have?

JCL: Not many. Most of the editions I’ve mentioned are in Spanish. Only educational books issued by the government are available in Aymara or Quechua.

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