Insignificant events do not exist
Colombian writer Juan Carlos Botero recently published 'Casual Events,' an autobiographical novel about violence, guilt and the power of chance
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Juan Carlos Botero is not just any writer. Based in Miami, son of painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, he grew up in the United States and is the author of several novels, essays and books of short stories for which he has won several awards, in addition to being a columnist for the newspaper El Espectador.
He just published Los hechos casuales (Casual Events), a novel about violence, guilt and the power of chance starring Sebastian Sarmiento, a successful and wealthy Colombian businessman with an enigmatic past. His tragedy: having lost his loved ones. The consequence: a feeling of guilt that never leaves him.
“Like the main character of the novel, Sebastian Sarmiento, I have long been aware that everything that has happened to me in life, from the best to the worst and from the greatest to the most elemental, is the result of a series of small chance events, chained together by chance, luck or accident, that acquire a domino effect and reach gigantic dimensions,” explained Botero in an interview with AL DIA.
Sebastián Sarmiento’s life, marked by the feeling of guilt for having lost his relatives, is actually a metaphor for the Colombian people.
“Few countries have suffered a comparable barbarism as mine. Of course, we would like to believe that this violence is the fault of a few drug traffickers, guerrillas and paramilitaries, a specific and isolated savagery that does not concern the rest of the population. But this is not true. That violence is our past, which is still in force, and we have to assume it as a society, because we all have to answer the essential question: how did we allow this barbarism and on this colossal scale,” he says, insisting on the need to deepen the feeling of individual and collective guilt.
Goodness is discreet
Curiously, despite all the horrors he has seen and suffered in Colombia, Botero considers himself increasingly optimistic. And what better place to support that thesis than Colombia?” he says. “If in a country like mine, full of violence, poverty, inequality and mistreatment at all levels, what triumphs is good (otherwise the country wouldn’t exist, simple as that), there is hope for the rest of the planet.”
It is not easy to see things this way, he clarifies, because goodness is quiet and discreet, while evil is noisy and grabs the headlines. “But I wanted to write this novel to raise several theses and concerns, and this one, that of goodness prevailing and predominating, was one of the main ones.”
Casual Events is also a novel riddled with autobiographical elements.
“Much of what I tell in the story I lived in the flesh, and the fact of having experienced, directly or indirectly, a slice of the national violence and its aftermath, such as kidnapping, exile, threats, death and so much more, I felt I needed to get some of those experiences off my chest, and I believe that literature allows me to exorcise certain negative experiences, to achieve a catharsis,” he says.
Raised in the United States, Botero was accepted at Harvard to study literature, but chose to return to Colombia to finish his degree at the Javeriana University in Bogota.
“I wanted to return to Colombia because I felt I had a duty to write about what was happening in my country. He admits that he resisted as long as he could, but by the year 2000 the pressure became unbearable and he left with his wife for good, not an easy decision: “Just as there is no greater pleasure than to travel when you want to, it is very hard to leave the country by force."
Today he lives happily with his wife and two daughters in Miami.
“The fact is that I love my country, and I will always write about Colombia, as a novelist and as a journalist, trying to do my bit to help promote national progress. At the end of the day, that’s the most any citizen can do, don’t you think?” he concludes.