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We are living at a time when borders and frontiers – dividing lines of all sorts, both geographical and ideological – form part of everyday discourse. It is a time of mass migration and countless individual ones. In Latin America some borders are more fraught than others. Litro invited authors from eight of its countries to write about their own experience of boundaries, real and imagined, resulting in a bold array of poetry, fiction and essay.
Rafael Gumucio, who also moonlights as a comedian in Chile, offers a playful account of an English class and the tensions and camaraderie that inevitably arise when different nationalities share the same space. In fragments of trenchant prose, his compatriot Lina Meruane tells a real tale of child refugees, setting their fate against the ominous spectre of bird flu. Alejandro Jodorowsky, cult filmmaker, and Tarot card wizard, presents a bleak poem, heavy in apocalyptic tone and imagery.
From Mexico we have Guadalupe Nettel, whose experience of borders began as a child and became thornier over time, courtesy of immigration officials in France and the United States, leading to the realization that the most difficult border of all to overcome is prejudice. Anglo-Mexican poet Kenneth Bostock’s training as an architect can be seen in his experimentation with form and linguistic angles. Natalia Toledo, a Zapotec poet from Oaxaca, creates images that evoke the sense of vulnerability and impermanence that haunts indigenous cultures whose very survival is increasingly threatened.
Julio Paredes (Colombia) is also a translator of Edgar Allan Poe and William Faulkner; his own work bears traces of that psychological complexity and conflicted habitation of space. Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles from Venezuela captures the tremendous anguish felt by the younger generations as they witness the gradual breakdown of civil society. His cri du cœur for his afflicted country feels more urgent than ever. In her narrative triptych, Claudia Salazar Jiménez (Peru) moves through female domestic interiors as well as museum space, demonstrating how most boundaries are more than mere wall.
From Cuba we have Yoss, who straddles the worlds of science fiction and heavy metal; here he takes the concept of borders to absurdist extremes, envisioning a wild scenario whereby crossing from one country into another teleports you to a third, distant location. Jorge Enrique Lage’s narrative, meanwhile, covers a 45-minute flight from Havana to Miami, his journey accompanied by personal musings on Cuban literature, a literature tightly entangled with the nation’s history and geography.
Carlos Fonseca Suárez (Costa Rica/Puerto Rico) offers the tale of an anthropologist and the fixed idea that drove him to insanity; fear of the other becomes a vehicle for a cultural exploration of sickness and solitude. We also include an interview Carlos conducted with Miriam Gómez, the widow of Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a dialogue that opens many windows onto the exiled life of the great Cuban writer in London; from his desk he resurrected his native Havana, but he also drew inspiration from local literary and cinematic history.
Brazil offers us three very different voices: Michel Laub’s brief, enigmatic text is a hymn of disillusion while hinting at the narrator’s own complicated backstory, while Fernanda Torres explains the need, current and historical, to draw boundaries around oneself, leading to her decision to acquire a bulletproof car. Antônio Xerxenesky’s essay can be read as a coda to our issue, a meditation on the multifaceted relationship between writing and borders.
Where does the self end, where does the rest of the world begin? For the writer who remains at home or the writer who goes abroad, the issue of boundaries remains vital, adding tension to our daily existence, defining the ways in which we relate to others. All our authors have added to the ongoing conversation. And on a final note, I would like to extend a very special thanks to the talented translators who worked on this issue. Their mission, a particular kind of border crossing, is much appreciated.