A woman steals books in front of the adoring eyes of the shop owner. A scorpion falls from the roof of a house and is subjected to human cruelty. A writer in Madras pens deceptive letters that offer a blurry image of the city and the possibility of travel. A father cares for a daughter who has four months left to live in the phantasmal city of New York. A boy kills a canary to test the existence of God.
These are some of the stories that have come from the imagination of Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa who, with a surgeon's precision, writes with equal mastery about violence in Guatemala, small everyday disasters, and the endangered jungle.
Born in 1958, Rey Rosa dropped out of medical school in order to travel and write. In fact, he says that travelling helped him to begin to take writing seriously at the age of eighteen. He studied film-making in New York for a time and then went to Morocco to attend a literary workshop with famous North American writer Paul Bowles who later became his mentor and translator.
The experience of travel has been fundamental in his life and his writings. He has spent periods of time in Morocco, Spain, and New York and has also gotten away from it all to write in the midst of nature in Guatemala. Rey Rosa says: "For me, travelling represents both happiness and rebellion; it's a defense of the goal of not belonging. For me, trying 'not to belong' is an adventure--a very happy adventure." In his novel, Train to Travancore--part of a project in which Random House Mondadori sent seven Latin American writers to seven cities of the world to write--Rey Rosa seems to laugh at the experience of travel. Or perhaps he develops it with a new eye that disarms the romantic epistolary novels of old-time travelers in order to bring the reader face to face with the unvarnished realities of lies and money.
In addition to being a writer, Rey Rosa has also directed films. In 2004, he presented an adaptation of his novel What Sebastian Dreamt at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie, which goes by the same name, is a story about a young man who has inherited land in the jungle and quickly finds himself embroiled in a world of senseless violence, trade in counterfeit Maya artifacts, and the mysteries of nature. His movie gives surprisingly detailed attention to nature and wildlife, with lengthy nature scenes that serve as a counterpoint to the main character's story. This detailed attention to nature is uncommon in writers of his...