Gabriela Cabezon Camara, Argentinian writer: “Spain should apologize to the local people and return the gold”

According to her autobiography, on March 18, 1600, Catherine de Erauso escaped from the convent of Dominican nuns in San Sebastian, where she was interned. The one who later became known as Monja Alferes cut his hair, made a new suit out of his novice’s cloth, and set out into the world as an adventurous man. His travels took him to places like Bilbao, Valladolid, and Seville, where he enlisted as a cabin boy on a ship captained by his uncle Esteban Aguino, which took him to what is now known as Latin America. This whole trip was plagued by crimes of varying degrees, which continued, of course, on the continent that the Spanish had begun to destroy two centuries earlier. The Argentinian writer Gabriela Cabezon Camara took this character as the main character of her novel The Girls of Naranjel, recently published in Spain by Random House.

Catalina, who is already Antonio in the book, is seen from three perspectives. It is undoubtedly the most surprising of the rogues, cruel conquerors and caretakers of Golden Age Spanish literature. These different visions are also reflected in the three grammars that coexist in the book, as well as the three languages ​​that intersect: Spanish, Guarani, and Basque. Thus, the novel goes beyond the protagonist’s experience and includes themes that reach the present, such as extractivism, the environment, or racism, among others. 5 centuries after the nun Alferes carved out her legend, humans still haven’t resolved the issues that lead them to the abyss.

“The question is his bravery and his extreme abomination. He’s a criminal, he’s a scumbag, a picaresque horror character. It is extraordinary, scoundrel, brave, genocide, because he participates in the conquest of Araucania and they give him medals,” Gabriela Cabezon told elDiario.es at the headquarters of his publishing house in Barcelona. The era he lived in is certainly a factor that shapes his personality and allows him to commit many crimes without thinking about the consequences. For example, and of course, your perspective on America and its people. “At one point in his autobiography, he describes Lima and all he sees is Spain: the monastery, the cathedral, the universities. And if you go to Lima today, you see a lot that isn’t Western, so imagine yourself in the 1600s, of course. I am interested in this very limited vision because it does not see the other exotically, it does not see them directly,” the author asserts.

The writer thinks about the invasion in the present because, in his opinion, “the conquest is not over.” Although “officially” considered to have ended when Latin American states became independent from Spain, these states “are both colonial and colonized,” he argues. “Perhaps this conquest ends when the world ends. Because it is closely intertwined with what capitalism is, what extractivism is. And we cannot stop it, even though it is in the interest of all humanity.” For him, the time has come for the colonizers to restore the damage they have done. “The conquest of America was a genocide without parallel. 100 years after Columbus’s arrival, only 10% of the population that existed when he arrived remained. There are quite a few theories that say that there was a small ice age at that time because so many people were killed that the forests grew back and the temperature of the planet dropped. “It was a genocide with a geological footprint,” he says. “In addition to asking for forgiveness, as López Obrador says, I would take the gold back. I would simply return it to its rightful owners, who are not us either, they are Native American people. [los que habitaban el territorio antes de la conquista]. After that, the Latin American states continued to massacre them, they continued to treat these people not as citizens, but as flies,” he says.

In fact, for Cabezon, this applies to all those colonizing countries. The writer advocates global action in which indigenous peoples around the world lead the fight to survive the apocalypse predicted by climate change. “Both Americans and from other countries. Because where there are indigenous people, the forest is better protected. The destruction of indigenous peoples is the destruction of humanity. They are the first on the war line, they are the first victims, but so are we. And if we don’t wake up, we’re gone.”

Indeed, one of the characters that accompanies Antonio is nature itself. Part of the story Cabezon tells takes place in a jungle clearing that has its own life and language. In order to get the most accurate portrait of that environment, the writer himself, along with naturalist photographer Emilio White, delved into its details. One of the most exciting parts of the documentation, which, on the other hand, was not difficult for the author, because many of his interests coincide with his book: medieval Spanish literature, the culture of local peoples and the relationship that is intertwined. Different languages ​​that coexist. Although he carries his weight in Spanish, the few words he uses in Guarani (about 18) and Basque allow him to see a particular way of seeing the world. “On the one hand, in the loving sense of the Spaniards of the time, there is this kind of parody. Then this way of talking about the girls that I had to invent because they don’t speak Guarani but Spanish with some grammar and different music. And then a third-person narrator in modern Spanish,” the writer develops.

One of the most striking parts of the novel is the one that portrays Antonio’s humanity. Despite being a bloodthirsty criminal, when he settles into nature with the girls, his caring and protective side emerges. He finally manages to recognize two people from that land as human. “There he is forced to stop: his life is like a spiral that has more and more speed and sees more and more horrors. And there, due to the most wrong circumstances, he is forced to stop,” explains Gabriela Cabezon. For the first time in his existence, he stands freely, and not because he is actually busy and even on the verge of hanging. And children are the key to this voluntary slowdown. “Children are the light in almost anyone’s life, and it affects them. It becomes part of the fabric of life, part of something, belonging to something. “The most radical transformation is taking place.”

Despite everything, being in the jungle is only a nail in the adventure of Monja Alferes, who must manage to escape punishment after leaving nature. She even ends up returning to the convent after confessing to all of his bloodthirsty deeds, including her passing through the world as a man rather than a woman. However, despite the robbery and murder, she is forgiven thanks to the fact that her hymen is still intact (an inexplicable miracle) some midwives say. “He says so in his autobiography. It is about the hierarchy of sins at that time. Almost a serial killer, but not a prostitute. A hug, a bishop crying with emotion, delirium,” the writer replies. “If I became a non-virgin, I would definitely end up at the stake,” she says.

This is Gabriela Cabezon Camara’s fifth book. He previously published two short novels, You Wear the Face of God (2011) and Romance de la Negra Rubia (2014), and the novels La Virgen de la Cabeza (2009) and The Adventure of Chinese Iron (2017). With this latter title, he was shortlisted for the Booker International Prize (2020) and the Medici Prize (2021). But before becoming a writer translated into more than 10 languages, Cabezon had many different jobs away from the world of letters. “I was 18 when I left my parents’ house, when I felt very orphaned, without getting a job, without money,” he recalls. “I worked as much as I could: in a bakery, selling car insurance on the street, data entry for Edenor, selling circuit breakers door to door, in printing houses. “I’ve done a lot of different things,” he says.

It was a difficult, very uncertain time when he often had to stay at friends’ houses because he couldn’t pay the rent. Before finally landing a position in the art department of the Clarín newspaper, he achieved economic stability and was able to study for a literature degree. He was over 25 years old. “I was always writing, but I couldn’t show that writing until I had the mental space to worry about how I would live and where I would live. So with stability I was able to give it the necessary boost. And well, one day I finished the novel and here we are, – he says. Now he combines his books with creative writing workshops and media articles, as almost all writers in Argentina do, he notes.

Now his immediate plan is to relax and go “rowing in the Paraná Delta”. But, like many other people, he is worried about the political situation in his country. He heard about Miley’s election victory on a plane to Spain on November 19 and is still shocked when the interview takes place. His forecast for the near future is negative, but he does not lose his optimism. “What was already bad will be worse because it was already bad. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Census, this is the solution to the wrath of the country, which has a poverty rate of more than 42%. But this calculation does not include housing costs because they must think that the poor are the owners,” he explains. “At the same time, the country is being destroyed by extractivism in the colonial order, becoming desertified, losing water. But let’s hope that this darkness makes it possible to produce something new, because we need it. And if not, I’ll see you here soon, he says without smiling.

Source: El Diario

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