“And free us from evil” is the most recent novel by Santiago Roncagliolo, published by Seix Barral. In this one, Jimmy, a young man of Peruvian descent who lives with his family in Brooklyn, goes through a crucial moment in his life, that of deciding what to do with his future. A trip to Lima changes his family perspective as he gradually learns about his father’s past, something that he has tried to keep hidden.
In this regard, VANGUARDIA had the opportunity to interview the author about it.
P.-How did the idea of writing this novel come about, that beyond religious fanaticism, evidence of abuse and power games?
SR.-He was born from a case close to me, close to my family even. I had friends and family in a religious congregation where abuse was later reported and once it was made public I was impressed. As all this had been happening for years without anyone saying anything, without anyone mentioning anything that what was happening was wrong. When there is something that is kept in iron silence, it is something you have to write about. That is the theme of the book, ripping the silence.
P.-Who do you draw inspiration from to build these apparently good characters, but who involve a lot of evil?
SR.- I received from all the people who had been close to the case, little details, little stories and anecdotes. Above all I was interested in some that did not make it to the press, because they spoke of a much more complex sexuality, of men with men, men with women, and I began to try to unite the strings because no one is really going to give you on this issue. I am interested in the perpetrators, who are precisely those who do not speak and I began to know something about this, but no one was going to tell me. So from these shoots, from these stories, I began to look for a coherent fabric, a logic, some way of arriving through fiction to what reality did not give me.
P.-In cases like this, with the theme of the book, what would you say literature is for?
SR.-Especially to shed light in the dark, to show things that other people don’t want you to see, that other people don’t want you to know. But also to put yourself in the shoes of those who have participated in those things. I am not interested in them coming out of the novel with a Manichean cliché of ‘these are the good guys’ and ‘these are the bad guys’; I am interested in you putting yourself in their shoes. That you wonder if you yourself would not have been just as bad if you had been born in another place, in another time, with another surname. It interests me that the reader recognizes what there is of himself in the evil and that those bad, many times the victimizers are also. We like to see reality as a football match, there are some who are the bad guys, who are the others and the good guys, who are us. I am interested in walking along the edge of that abyss, taking the reader there, to how complex it is to distinguish them.
P.-And you handle that complexity very well, because you read and feel that you are about to reach a fever pitch and you don’t.
SR.- The reader has to decide many times what is right and what is wrong. Or what is happening. The reader has to decide what happened behind a door, or exactly what intention a character has, because I am interested in involving him, that he gets involved, that he has an opinion. Make it part of the game, make it part of the book.
P.- I comment that during the reading I sensed stories of abuse, but they had not yet arrived and I could not stop reading to discover them.
SR.- I somehow write horror stories, but real, social and psychological horror stories of people; but they are horror stories. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in horror movies they are good until the monster comes out, when you’ve seen the monster it sucks. They are boring. So I was interested that Jimmy – the character that is the common thread of the story – was around the monster without ever ending. Other characters reveal bits of the beast to him, they open the little window for him, a slit through which he looks out but never finishes seeing it in its entirety, to maintain that tension.
P.-Going beyond the thematic axis of the work, it makes a readiography of Latin American society. That is, although the family was of Peruvian origin, in Mexico it also happens that we believe that by not touching on a subject, it is as if it did not exist.
SR.- Latin America is a very unequal region, that means that the higher classes live as secluded in their palaces, fearing the others. They build a wall by putting their children in separate schools, living in segregated neighborhoods. The Latin American upper classes are like sects, big and they are Catholic. So there, and it has happened in many cases, ultra-conservative groups to recruit their victims only need them to take one more step and that has been very recurrent throughout Latin America.
P.- Your novel refers me to ‘Pedro Páramo’, in this quest to discover the father.
SR.- I love that you tell me. Several Mexican journalists, including some from Peru, have told me. And yes, it is a story of a son looking for his father and finding a ghost. I always read Rulfo as an author of ghosts and I grew up understanding, for example ‘Aura’ by Carlos Fuentes, or the many short stories by Cortázar, even novels by Onetti; like horror stories. Nobody called them that, but to me that’s what they were. When I write stories playing with fear, playing with suspense, I am also hearing the tradition of the Latin American Boom, with which I grew up.
P.- There is a phrase from the book that struck me a lot: “For good to have merit, evil must exist.”
SR.- It’s true, I think that in fact groups like this one, like the one in the novel, justify themselves because the outside world is bad. And then they offer their members a mission, to save the world from evil, that’s very powerful, especially when you’re a teenager. It is the same as Shining Path did, they recruited people who wanted to save the world. Evil is always justified, thinking that there was a worse evil. Everyone who has seen any electoral process knows for a fact. (I laugh and comment that on Sunday we have one). And surely there are candidates who don’t say it like that, but the message is, ‘I’m bad, but the other one is much worse.’ The evil of the other is a reason to justify our own and makes us good.
P.- Did you take advantage of the confinement to read? Is there a book that you can recommend us?
I did a great review of the history of humanity, I was reading ‘Sapiens’, a history of music, I was reading a history of art, of literature. I was almost doing my own study of the history of culture. That there is one that fascinates me, which was also very popular in Spain – where he lives – it came out last year, it’s in Mexico and it’s wonderful because anyone can read it. It is so well written that it is a book that touches anyone, it is a book by Irene Vallejo called “Infinity in a junk”; it is a story of the birth of books in the ancient world, of Alexandria, Greece, Rome, but it is constantly talking about the present, what we do with books and words today.