Thursday, May 14, 2009
Colombian Author Evelio Rosero Awarded Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
"The Armies" by Colombian author Evelio Rosero
A brutal but beautiful novel about life in Colombia in the midst of the civil war which has ravaged the country for decades has won the Independent foreign fiction prize.
Evelio Rosero, a prize-winning author in his own country but hardly known outside it, this evening became the first Colombian author to win the prize, picking it up for a book which judges praised as "a beautifully wrought, gently spoken novel of love, war and grief". The Armies is set in a village in the remote mountains of Colombia, following the story of a retired schoolteacher whose wife disappears; as more people go missing and war approaches, the other villagers make their escape, but Ismael stays behind, becoming a reluctant witness to the violence that is sweeping his country.
"It's a stunning novel of the Colombian conflict – it's so beautifully told, it reads like a classic," said its translator Anne McLean. "Most of the events – the shock horror events in the novel – are taken from news stories. It's not a comfortable read, but it is a page-turner and he somehow makes it universal even though it's so Colombian."
Rosero, who speaks no English, said winning the prize had persuaded him to keep on writing. "This recognition comes as very welcome and timely news as I find myself halfway through a novel that I've been tackling for several months now," he said in a translated statement. "At the stage when one doesn't know whether to keep writing or run away, the Independent foreign fiction prize has encouraged me to opt for the former."
He also thanked McLean, an "unsurpassable translator of Spanish-speaking writers", for "the beautiful English she made out of my anguish and love for my country".
Evelio Rosero, Colombian author
Chair of judges Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of the Independent, said The Armies "not only laments the Colombian people's tragedy but celebrates the universal but always fragile virtues of everyday life and speaks of terrible events with a precision and humanity that earn the reader's affection as well as respect". McLean's translation, meanwhile, "captures every shade and nuance of this story in words that match gravity and grace".
Winning the prize for a second time – McLean first picked it up in 2004 for her translation of Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas – was "unbelievable", the translator said. "I was so shocked that both my books made the shortlist, so to have actually won is really flabbergasting."
McLean, who also translated the shortlisted The Informers by another Colombian writer, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, said there was "a lot of good fiction coming out of Colombia". "It seems to be a good time for Colombian fiction," she said. "Evelio Rosero has won all the major prizes in Colombia but this is only his second novel to be published in Spain, where he's been a revelation – everyone's saying 'who is this guy?'"
Antonia Byatt, literature director at the Arts Council, which runs the award in association with the Independent, said the choice of The Armies as winner illustrated the importance of fiction in translation. "Who would want to miss such a poignant and powerful book? A book that not only tells us about how life is torn apart in a country wrought be war, but also adds to our understanding of the human condition," she said. "I am delighted more novels in translation than ever were entered for the prize this year, proof that we are waking up to the hugely rich quality of fiction written in other languages."
"The Armies" available on Amazon.co.uk