When the Colombian writer Lorena Salazar Masso (Medellín, 29 years old) finished writing her first novel, she put it away in a drawer and started looking for work. The manuscript of This wound full of fish it was the final project of the narrative master's degree at the Madrid School of Writers and had no claims to be published. It was July 2020. Salazar, who had to return from Spain to Colombia due to the coronavirus, was focused on getting a stable job in the midst of the pandemic. The moving novel, about a white mother who travels with her black son down a river in the Colombian Pacific towards a tragic destiny, had to wait.
It took several months and the insistence of the teachers who had read the text for the young author to be encouraged to present it to a publisher. Salazar asked for contact with Tránsito Editorial, in Spain, and Angosta Editores, in Colombia. He sent the book and soon received good news. "I was very lucky that they read it and that they liked it," acknowledges the writer. The two publishers answered yes the same week. From then on the novel soared. The book is a bestseller in both countries and has received critical acclaim. Babelia has just chosen it as one of the seven recommended novels in Spanish for the summer and the translation rights have already been sold to major publishers in Germany, France, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic. The Spanish writer Marta Sanz summed it up like this: “Lorena Salazar puts her finger on the sore of the fragile. He has written music and truth. A beautiful book ”.
From his home in Medellín, Salazar Masso talks about the unbreakable bonds of solidarity between black women, the silent and invisible racism that Colombia still suffers, about the music and the drums of the Pacific that resound in the novel, about the poetry of Alejandra Pizarnik , Sylvia Plath and Gabriela Mistral, pessimism and hope, poverty, abandonment and the wounds of violence that have not yet healed.
Question. How did you feel when you finished the book? Was she satisfied?
Answer. I thought I had written something that was the best possible for my abilities at the time. He had demanded a lot of me every week during the seven months of writing, but I had many fears, especially about the issue of the armed conflict. I had never written anything this strong and I said: "This can turn out very well or very badly, but since it is for the master's degree and no one is going to read it, I'm going to take a risk." I knew it touched many sensitive areas, but I wrote it out of love and respect. I needed to tell what had happened in the region where I lived my childhood. From a very young age I have that impression of violence engraved on my mind. This book was a cry of relief.
P. In a recent interview, he said that the wound of violence in Colombia is still open. Why?
R. That's how it is. The wound of violence in Colombia remains open and this country does not allow it to heal. Just look at the news from the last few days. The repression against protesters has been brutal. The State attacking the people. The story of This wound full of fish it is nothing different from that abandonment combined with an act of violence that marked the destiny of the country in recent years. If we do not tell what happened, it is impossible for us to begin to heal. It still seems that this wound is never going to close. It is very sad. Sometimes I get pessimistic, that's why I wanted to write. In the end, there is some hope in the book. The protagonist is a child.
P. What was it like to experience violence in childhood?
R. Violence has always been present, but I have not had to suffer what many close people in Chocó have had to suffer. I admit that I write from my privilege, but that does not exempt me from feeling the pain and telling it.
P. The ending seems disconcerting, but there are many clues that are telling us what is going to happen, did you know what the outcome would be like since you started writing?
R. I understood the end when I had 15% of the novel written. I realized that the book could not end any other way. In Colombia all the time we are experiencing signs that something bad is going to happen. Something similar happens in the book. The literary construction is helped by the historical context.
I admit that I write from my privilege, but that does not exempt me from feeling the pain and telling it.
P. It is true, the reader intuits that something is going to happen to the child from the beginning, but he does not know very well what it will be …
R. When people are so surprised by the end of my novel I get sad. That shows how easily we forget in Colombia.
P. In addition to the visible violence, the armed confrontations, the murders, the disappeared, the book questions other more silent types of violence: poverty, abandonment, racism, lack of opportunities …
R. At the bottom of the book there are several subtle forms of denunciation, but they are not presented in a tone of denunciation. I tried to talk about these problems without making it feel like I was trying to implement an idea.
P. At first glance it seems that the central thread of the novel is motherhood, but in several interviews she has said that the great theme is rootedness and belonging. Why?
R. Motherhood helped me to tell a story of roots because in this case the territory and motherhood become one. I wanted to talk about belonging through the relationship of a mother and her son.
When people are so surprised by the end of my novel I get sad. That shows how easily we forget in Colombia.
P. In another interview, you said that the child does not have a name because you wrote thinking about children with bare feet. How did you build that character?
R. For me the child is the most important thing in the novel. It is a hidden resource to go beyond me. If you notice, all the characters have a little boyish look. Everyone at some point in history allows the game, the tenderness, the innocence, the detailed look. The child allowed me to give the novel dynamism in moments of sadness. I was very close to a book by Ray Bradbury called The summer wine, too Deadly and pink a precious book by Francisco Umbral, which narrates the death of a sick son. There is a love that only love that is near the end allows. It is paradoxical because I fed a lot from that book, but I read it little by little, because it hurt a lot, it awakened things in me that I did not know. But I think that poetry was the most important, especially Gabriela Mistral, Sylvia Plath and Alejandra Pizarnik.
P. Noticeable. The novel has a constant tone of poetic prose or prose poetry …
R. I leaned on much in what I wanted to convey: a mother who is suffering all the time, on the edge of the abyss. The rhythm and cadence of the story was given to me by poetry. I like very much.
P. Now that he talks about rhythm, in the novel the songs and instruments of the Pacific sound all the time. How do you see this relationship between music and literature?
R. I grew up surrounded by the music of Chocó: above all praise you, gualíes, chirimías. Listening to them and writing about them makes me feel at home, I feel like I have never left. That music was in the writing process helped me remember many things from when I was a child. Music is so present in the territory that it was impossible for it not to be in the novel, it appeared naturally.
P. In the novel there are many scenes in which strong ties of solidarity are seen between women. Are they a reflection of what you remember or is it a literary construction?
R. Both. Those scenes are born from memories, from seeing how women in black communities have knowledge and strength and support each other to face difficulties. But there are also things that come out of feminism. There are already enough leading men in literature to put another as the canoe driver.
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