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LibreRío de la Plata was founded 10 years ago in Sabadell, an industrial city near Barcelona. Photo: ©Mireia Burgués Ozcariz
LibreRío de la Plata was founded 10 years ago in Sabadell, an industrial city near Barcelona. Photo: ©Mireia Burgués Ozcariz

Literary connections between Barcelona and Latin America

LibreRío de la Plata, the first bookstore specialized in Latin American authors in the province of Barcelona, celebrates 10 years.

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On Feb. 14, 2013, coinciding with Valentine's Day, the first bookstore specializing in Latin American literature in the metropolitan region of Barcelona opened in the industrial city of Sabadell. The bookstore, called LibreRío de la Plata, was founded by Uruguayan Cecilia Picún, who has been passionately dedicated to disseminating great writers from Latin America for 10 years.

"The first few days no one came in. We were waiting for someone to open the door," Picún recalled at the 10th anniversary celebration held recently at Casa América Catalunya. 

Picún came to Sabadell in 2007 for love and for a while she was working in the pharmaceutical industry, but when five years later she was laid off from the company she worked for, she wondered what her new place would be.

"What I loved was reading, so I decided to set up a bookstore," she recalled. She had the best 'emotional' partner to do it — her husband Miguel, a Catalan — who at the same time represented the spirit she wanted to give to her business: "to be a point of union between the two sides of the Atlantic."
 
"They told us we were crazy," Picún explained, recalling the moment she presented her idea at a round table at the BCN Negra festival, which also included the charismatic bookseller Paco Camarasa. At that time, the financial crisis was wreaking havoc and dozens of bookstores were forced to close their doors. 

It was not an easy start, Picún admitted.

"My daughter Lucía had brought me some palo santo from Machu Pichu and she said it brought good luck. So what I did was to light the palo santo, walk around the bookstore so that the scent would linger and attract people," she said, and people ended up coming in. "But they didn't come to buy books, they came to see who was crazy enough to open a bookstore in 2013," she laughed. Noticing from his accent that she "wasn't from here," they seemed to stay quiet.

"They associated that this craziness could only come from outside," she added with a chuckle.

Little by little

Little by little people started to come in. Many were writers, they wanted their book to be in the bookstore. They were generally self-published books, which did not sell. Then they filled the empty shelves with used books, "expensive books, because many were out of print," and they also had travel books. 

"Little by little we refined what we really wanted to be: militants of Latin American literature. We wanted to share the joy of reading a Latin American author. But where were those readers? They were in world literature," explained the renowned Uruguayan bookseller. That is why they decided not only to fill the bookstore with Latin American literature, but also with "everything we like": translated books, Catalan or Spanish originals, illustrated books... There is room for everything," she said.

One of Picún's qualities is knowing how to create synergies with people and in Sabadell, then shaken by a tremendous social and economic crisis. The opening of LibreRío was a "cultural shock."  She recalled that one of the first events that filled the bookstore with people was the presentation of the novel Óscar y las mujeres by Peruvian writer Santiago Roncagliolo, who lives in Barcelona. The novel tells the story of Oscar Coliffato, a manic and asocial person who feels contempt for everyone, despite being a successful creator of soap operas. 

"When you are far from your country, everything that comes to you from it comes in bits and pieces, everything that you recognize as your world, and that is the world I write about, is in other places," said Roncagliolo himself, grateful that in Europe there are bookstores like LibreRío, where Peruvian books are talked about. "I have realized that they are a meeting point that has to do, much more than with books, with the lives of the people who are part of it, who find a space for their own stories in the company of those other stories," he added, referring to LibreRío as a "tiny but infinite" place. 

In recent years, the Sabadell bookstore has expanded with activities related to literature, from its popular book clubs to meetings and specialized talks like the one to be held on March 9 on International Women's Day: "bad advice for bad women" that will feature poetry and humor.

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