Arts 28/03/11

Colombian novelist wins a major prize in Spain, Plácido Domingo sings in Buenos Aires, and the Mexican government alleges that a Mayan statue sold at auction may be a fake.

Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vásquez won the prestigious Alfaguara prize on 21 March for his novel ‘El ruido de las cosas al caer’ (‘The Sound of Things Falling’). The novel, which opens with the hunt for one of notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar’s hippopotamuses, explores the ‘lost generation’ of Colombia in the 1980s and the effects of the drug trade on Colombian society. The writer himself left Colombia in 1993, just after Escobar’s death, and has said that ‘The relationship my country has with the drug trade has shaped my life…The consequences reach into every corner of society’. In an interview with ‘El Tiempo,’ Vásquez reflected on his relationship with his homeland after living abroad and the country’s ‘dark corners’, and called the novel ‘the best instrument we have for understanding ourselves as a species’.

The Alfaguara prize, which includes a $175.000 award, is considered one of the preeminent literary awards in the Hispanophone world. The prize, first awarded in 1998, was conferred by a jury headed by Spanish writer Bernardo Atxaga. ‘El ruido de las cosas al caer’ beat out over 600 other entries from all over Latin America, Spain, and the United States. Juan Gabriel Vásquez is the author of a number of other critically acclaimed novels, including ‘Los amantes de todos los santos’, ‘Los informantes’, and ‘Historia secreta de Costaguana’.

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes says he is writing a new novel to be published next year. The book will be titled ‘Federico en el balcón’, but Fuentes is refraining from giving away any details of the plot or characters. The author is also working on an essay on the history of the Spanish-language novel, from Bernal Díaz del Castillo to Jorge Volpi. Fuentes, who was born in 1928, told the newspaper ‘El Universal’ that he plans to keep working until the last day of his life because ‘I have nothing else to do, and as long as I am able to I will write’.

Heavy rains in Argentina forced Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo’s concert, scheduled for 23 March, to be postponed. The performance instead took place on Thursday, 24 March, before a crowd of 120.000 people on the Avenida 9 de Julio. Domingo was supposed to give two concerts, one in the Teatro Colón and one free, open-air concert, but the performance at the Teatro Colón was canceled because of a conflict with the theatre’s employees. Instead, Domingo gave a brief concert for the theatre’s employees and their families, followed by the three-hour open-air concert in downtown Buenos Aires. Traffic along the Avenida 9 de Julio was blocked all day in preparation for the concert, which included works by Verdi, zarzuelas, and tangos.

A statue of a Mayan goddess from the Henri Law collection sold at auction in Paris on 21 March for a record-breaking €2.9m ($4.1m). However, the Mexican government and the National Institute of Mexican Anthropology and History claim that the goddess—along with 66 other pieces of the 207 total lots up for sale—is a fake. The statue’s height and bent legs indicate its inauthenticity, according to the government, and it exhibits a ‘free style that does not recreate any of the formal or stylistic characteristics of Mexico’s meso-American cultures.’ Nevertheless, the piece was included in a show of Mexican artifacts at the Rath Museum in Geneva in 1998. The dispute arrives in the midst of ongoing tensions between Mexico and France over the Cassez case and the cancellation of the ‘Year of Mexico’.

31 March will mark the beginning of the ‘¡Sí Cuba!’ festival in New York City. The three-month long festival will feature Cuban music with performances by or films about over a dozen musical groups, including the Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Piñeiro, who claim to have invented salsa. The festival, which will also celebrate literature, dance, theatre, and photography, may indicate a cultural rapprochement between the US and Cuba.

The Organization of American States (OAS) launched the Inter-American Year of Culture on 23 March. Lenore García, head of the Education and Culture office of the OAS, says that the year’s events will include a music festival in the Bahamas, a poetry contest in Chile, and a Colombian folkloric festival in Washington, D.C.

Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa starred opposite actress Vanessa Saba in a production of his ‘1001 Nights’ on 19 March at the theatre La Arena de Asia in Lima. Over 1.500 people attended, but the performance received mixed reviews.

Ricky Martin kicked off his ‘MAS’ (Música + Alma + Sexo) world tour with a major concert in San Juan, Puerto Rico on 25 March.


The New York Review of Books features an essay on books–and stealing them–by Roberto Bolaño on its website.

Chilean musician Alex Anwandter, formerly of the hugely successful (now defunct) band Teleradio Donoso, has released his new single ‘Casa Latina’ under the new stage name Odisea.