Snippet: Alfaguara prize to Jorge Volpi

Una novela criminal (Premio Alfaguara de novela 2018) (Spanish Edition) by [Volpi, Jorge]

The 2018 Alfaguara novel prize (Wikipedia) went to the Mexican writer Jorge Volpi (Mexico City, 1968) for the work Una novela criminal [A crime novel].

Excerpts from the article by Ferran Bono et al. in El País:

It treats a real case “plagued by shadows:” the one that affected in 2005 the then couple Israel Vallarte and Florence Cassez, accused of a kidnapping in Mexico.

Volpi tries to bring order into the facts that led to a diplomatic incident between the governments of Calderón and Sarkozy with a “novel without fiction.” Volpi explained to El País that the pressure of the French government led to the liberation of Florence Cassez after eight years in prision, but that did not prevent Israel Vallarta from being imprisoned for eleven years without a first instance court sentence.

The Mexican writer sees himself in the tradition of Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and others. “They use the resources and the narrative means of the traditional novel to tell true facts, and the margin of the imagination consists sometimes in filling the interstices that haven’t been clear,” he signalled. But in contrast to Capote or Mailer who “trusted in their judicial systems,” the Mexican has affirmed that his “great challenge” has been that he couldn’t believe any of his.

“In this, not totally resolved case, the function of the institutions was to give an appearance that they were resolving the facts, but with lies. The authority tried to hide that which should have been clarified. On this case there was revealed that the police had organized a TV montage to capture them.”

Infobox El País: a televised detention

Israel Vallarta and Florence Cassez were detained on a ranch on the outskirts of Mexico City. The police operation was broadcast live by Televisa and TV Azteca, Mexico’s most important TV stations, including the rescue of three kidnapped persons. Days later it was demonstrated that this was a montage planned by the police and reporters of the TV stations. In reality, the couple was detained a day earlier. The media-police farce did not prevent them from being accused and condemned. Additionally the investigation was plagued with irregularities: witnesses who had never been there; false witness obtained through threats and torture; victims without proof of having been kidnapped; and a police chief, Genaro García Luna, who would become the powerful Secretary of Public Security.

It took the writer three years to get through the documents, reading the 10,000 pages of the file to prepare his novel, whose narration starts in 2005. Since then, “Mexico, regrettably, has changed a lot. In those moments, the biggest security concern were the kidnappings, but one year later Calderón started his war on drugs. This has brought about during these 12 years a situation in which we have hundreds of thousands of dead, of disappeared; these are numbers of a civil war. It has been a terrible change.”

Fernando Savater, president of the prize jury, read the verdict: “Breaking with all conventions of the genre, the author puts the reader and reality head to head, without intermediaries. In this story, the narrator is only the eye that passes over the facts and puts them into order. His view is the question; there are no answers here, only the perplexity of the real.”

Other members of the jury were the writers Mathias Enard and Sergio del Molino, the Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Llosa, the Mexican editor Emilio Achar and the label’s editor, Pilar Reyes.

In this edition, a total of 580 manuscripts were sent in, of which 261 were from Spain, 88 from Argentina, 62 from Mexico, 69 from Colombia, 45 from the US, 21 from Chile, 22 from Peru, and 12 from Uruguay.

A diplomat, writer, mythomaniac, culture manager, Jorge Volpi is one of the most important exponents of the renovation of the Mexican literary scene of the last two decades. Together with Ignacio Padilla, Pedro Ángel Palou or Eloy Urroz, he forms part of the so-called “generación del Crack” [Crack generation]. Born between 1961 and 1968, the years of the great literary onomatopoeia, the Boom, his work has enriched the Latin-American tradition with more cosmopolitan and contemporary vectors.

The dialogue in his plots with other disciplines such as history, economics, psychology, or the introduction of historical characters into his novels –as he did in El fin de la locura [The end of madness] (2003) or in the celebrated En busca de Klingsor [In Search of Klingsor] (1999)– are some of the constants of the Mexican writer’s universe, author of more than 20 books: novels, short stories, and essays.
A law graduate and PhD in Spanish Philology, Volpi has combined his literary work with a civil service career. While a culture attaché in Paris, he was for four years the director of the Festival Internacional Cervantino [Cervantes international festival; Wikipedia]. Since last year he is the head of cultural diffusion at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Latin America’s biggest university.


A more thorough overview over Volpi’s life and work can be found at the Wikipedia. lists a few of Volpi’s novels as available in English.

SOURCE: El País, Jan. 31, 2018; Alfaguara (publisher)


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