“Nobody stops being a cholo in Peru, the most pitucos tremble when they enter London”


“Who I am?”. This is the question that the Peruvian writer Jeremías Gamboa (Lima, 1975) has yet to answer. He has rehearsed answers in his three books: ‘Vanishing Point‘, ‘tell it all‘ and the recently published ‘Luminous Animals’ (Penguin Random House). “The day you answer that question, that day I will stop writing,” he says in his Barranco studio.

YOU CAN READ: ‘Luminous Animals’, the second novel by Jeremías Gamboa

He has returned an orphan to the literary arena after seven years. He no longer has any link with whoever was considered his ‘godfather’, the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa. Without that media pressure and rather with the peace of mind of knowing that there are no eyes watching him, he has published ‘luminous animals’, a book that could be considered a momentous step towards his maturity as a writer.

In ‘Luminous Animals’, Jeremías Gamboa introduces us to Ismael Alaya, a scholarship student from the University of Colorado, United States, who during one night discovers the wild university life of that country. At the same time, he also discovers himself and finds a boy with fears, with traumas, with wounds, with a backpack that he cannot put down and that he finds it difficult to talk about. And that backpack is his past in Peru. A past of humiliation, humiliation, abuse due to his Andean ancestry.

This book represents for Gamboa, in his search to know who he is, the return to his roots. The understand. Recognizing its origins. Facing his past. And begin to speak it or write it. “The backpacks are not left, they learn to carry”, he assures while drinking coffee without sugar.

SEARCH FOR IDENTITY

QUESTION: Pérez Reverte said that he made fiction because there were questions that could not be answered with journalism, Jeremías, do you have questions that you have not yet been able to answer?

ANSWER: I have discovered with my third book that one of the great themes of my work, there are already three books, is identity: Who am I? In ‘Vanishing Point‘ is already a very great anxiety. The characters in that book of stories – now I see it clearly – have passed a kind of gate.

Gabriel Lisboa, in ‘Contarlo todo’, when he writes the novel, is in a place of return, which is Santa Anita. Now I have a character, in ‘Luminous Animals’, who has escaped from Peru and Peru exploits him.

I realize that I see and feel my identity, but it is a very great anxiety. I have the impression that they come from the diversity of contrasting experiences that I have lived. Other things that have not entered into my work, is the neighborhood, my family, my origin. It should be what’s next.

luminous animals

And have you managed to answer who you are?

The day I answer that question, that day I will stop writing. Every time I feel that I have more tools to deal with it. I think that everything is included in this curious phrase, it is an irony, which is from (José María) Arguedas: “Living all the motherlands like a happy devil”. Says a man who then commits suicide. It tells you that it is not easy to live all the homelands when the homelands do not have the same valence. There are some that should be silent and others that should be said. And there are some that are better displayed and others silenced. What I do realize is that I am beginning a stage of spoilsports.

Why?

I happened to be a child just at the moment when being from Ayacucho was equivalent to being terruco, in the 80’s. So, my parents lived with a lot of anxiety. They wanted their children to assimilate and erase these signs of identity. It was a time when Peru was not proud of what was indigenous, that was on television, it was in Augusto Ferrando’s jokes, in the speeches I heard as a child. I was born in the city with this past. I know Ayacucho at 26 years old.

Have you tried to erase that identity?

I did what all children do at the time, which is to go out into the world with what parents tell you what to do. My parents never told me they were Ayacuchanos. The programs that your parents install in you when you are a child, some phrases are very marked, one of them is ‘university’. I now realize that at the university life begins. There is something that I must thank my parents for, they realize that only with education would we, their children, be able to compete in better conditions.

And was it so?

Undoubtedly, education is the ‘concentration camp’ of Peru. Education is where – it must be said – the national disgrace is taking place. The saddest thing is that both the extreme right and the extreme left agree to destroy it. Both agree not to evaluate teachers. And by the way, many people have given their opinion on the subject, and hardly anyone has studied at a national school. I do. I have the authority to say that it is a ‘concentration camp’. The educational experience that I had is one of the most horrifying that I have lived. Of course, he had extraordinary teachers. But the secondary experience I had in Alan García’s first government was unfortunate. And set you up to lose. The country will function when there is a stable field to compete on equal terms.

And is the university a space for discovery? I understand it this way in ‘Luminous Animals

What you do when you make fiction is explore a conjectural side of yourself. I think that Ismael (protagonist of the book) represents a bit of that wounded animal. He carries a backpack that I wanted to run away from. What happens is that Ismael ends as he ends, I won’t say how. What I did was return to Peru to elaborate, to recover, to conquer the past. The task of remembering and returning to the origin is an estimable and interesting task. But when the origin is stigmatized and is part of the stain, because in Peru the Andean experience is the stain, it is more challenging.

Is it a backpack that you have learned to carry?

Backpacks learn to carry. I have done a lot of work on self-analysis, psychoanalysis, literature and memory. This has allowed me to load the backpack well, which means starting to talk about it.

Excuse me, I wanted to return to the previous topic, the university. The other issue is that my mother told me that I had to be ‘someone’. And the other phrase he always repeated to me was: “don’t be like us, be something else”. But they didn’t say. “be like us but better”. That’s brutal because it throws you into a national paradox. I mean, how I build myself being something that doesn’t look like the people I love.

CÉSAR ACUÑA, THE TSAR OF EDUCATION

Jeremías, is it necessary to leave Peru to see Peru?

Help. Being abroad you realize that the painful circumstances of your country are not unique and exclusive to your country. Other countries also have their issues, their tragedies.

What is the greatest tragedy in Peru?

I would say education. It seems to me, seeing it in the mediocrity of the government and in the mediocrity in the criticism of the government itself, that the big problem is education. And that it is a teacher who is reacting so badly, so mediocre right now, is a very powerful manifestation of the state of education in Peru.

YOU CAN READ: Christopher Acosta, author of ‘Plata como cancha’: “I reaffirm myself in every line of my book” | VIDEO

Do you find it paradoxical that the czar of education is a guy like Cesar Acuna?

Acuña is a very crazy thing, you cannot deny him a certain consequence, he has all these accusations of plagiarism, he is a guy who does not quote, does not attribute, and attacks those who do attribute. In that sense, his contempt for intellectual work is evident. In that sense, it seems to be consistent with his hatred of attribution, which is the center of journalistic work, of investigation. That is amazing.

César Acuña (left) is the research subject of the book

César Acuña (left) is the research subject of the book “Plata como cancha”, by journalist Christopher Acosta. (Photo: Jessica Vicente/José Rojas/GEC)

What do you think of the sentence to the journalist Christopher Acosta and the editor Jerónimo Pimentel?

I would give you two answers. One, it is an attack, but I also believe that it is a victory. I think that Acuña, I have the impression, wanted to show or teach journalists about the sanctions they could face when messing with a powerful person. That was his intention. And what he has ended up achieving is instructing the powerful that attacking a book is giving it every chance of success. When he messed with Acosta, he made it a bestseller, right? They have elevated Acosta and Pimentel to the position of heroes of freedom of expression.

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA, THE ‘GODFATHER’

‘Luminous Animals’ has not had the accolade of a Nobel Prize and, nevertheless, it makes its way alone…

I like that. ‘Tell it all’ was a very particular wave and I appreciate it.

Was the support of Vargas llosa a very strong pressure?

Yes, it was very strong. In every sense.

How do you see it now, after so many years?

It was extraordinary at the time. The support of Vargas Llosa allowed me the first economic relief of my life. I was 37 years old and for the first time I had savings. But it also earned me hatred, misgivings.

Do you now live from what you write?

I live from literature. Between what I write and teach.

Vargas Llosa was a shareholder of a

Mario Vargas Llosa

It’s every writer’s dream…

Anyone who loves writing or loves literature is going to say, ‘That’s all I want.’

Currently, do you have a good relationship with Vargas Llosa?

I have no relationship with Vargas Llosa… Well, yes… I have no relationship with Vargas Llosa, neither good nor bad.

Is it true that you read the draft of ‘Tell It All’?

Yes, that is something that I will never stop thanking him for. Imagine, there will always be gratitude, admiration for the work and generosity he had. Labels of ‘sponsorship’ were generated and must be assumed. You have to assume with maturity.

Does Vargas Llosa continue to be a paradigm for Peruvian writers?

Without a doubt, of course. Many of my generation were formed with him, others against him and despite him. Without a doubt, it is a benchmark. I don’t know how they are with recent generations, but many of the writers of my generation decided to be writers or were convinced after reading ‘A Fish in the Water’.

What do you think when they stone him for his political positions?

Well, I mean, I’d try not to go in there. At some point I declared about his adherence to Keiko, but well… He has his positions. Some of us have been surprised, for example, by the issue of fraud. Vargas Llosa lost connection…

What does ‘Luminous Animals’ represent in your career as a writer?

I will thank this book for many things. For example, it took me out of the pressure to ‘Tell it all’. It has been a book that came to alleviate the pressure of years without publishing.

Jeremías, a columnist assured that you represent success in the face of complexes and resentments, that you are rather a winner…

But if I have triumphed over complexes and resentments, does that mean I should stop talking about the reasons that generate complexes and resentments in so many Peruvians? No one stops being a cholo in Peru. The most pituca people in Peru are trembling at the controls when they enter London. That’s how it is.

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