Poet and fiction writer Gloria Susana Esquivel has been quickly positioned in the spotlight of recent Latin American literature. The University of Texas Press recently published Animals at the End of the World, the English translation of her first novel. The novel follows Ines, a seven-year-old girl, in the weeks that precede the apocalyptic end of the world. Together with María, the housemaid’s daughter, she ventures through the labyrinthine space of her grandparents’ house and, in the process, witnesses the aggressive, sorrowful, and desolate world of the adults who surround her. Outside, the political violence of Colombia in the 1990s threatens to intrude into her world, and slowly but surely, Ines’s innocent world starts to crumble. What emerges from the destruction is a scathed and wounded animal that is both elusive and fierce. The novel is a tour de force that stands out as the voice of a generation, offering shrewd insights into a country, an era, and a cohort marked forever.
Esquivel is also the host of Colombia’s most renowned feminist podcast, Womansplaining, and a leading voice in cultural and feminist debates. À propos of the recent translation of her novel into English (translated by Robin Myers), we sat down to chat about her book, her podcast, and being a woman writer in Colombia.
Camilo Jaramillo: You chose an interesting narrator for Animals at the End of the World: the voice of a child through the memory of the protagonist, an adult. Can you speak of the difficulties of working with this voice?
Gloria Susana Esquivel: The book is narrated from the voice of a woman remembering her childhood. When I was doing research for the novel, I read many books written from the voices of children, and I thought it was very hard to achieve that kind of voice in a credible way. The girl is about to be seven years old and learning how to read and write, and it is very hard to translate that process into writing. The way children form sentences is very different from the ways an adult would. That would have exceeded my talent, and it was not what I was after. That’s why I decided that it was going to be narrated by the voice of a woman who remembered her childhood. What happens, though, is that this voice gets so immersed in these memories that she is able to bring a very genuine child’s perspective of the world, and that adult voice seems to merge with the voice of a child.
Jaramillo: When you were writing the memories and experiences of a child, did you rely on your own experiences as a kid, or was it, rather, a blank canvas for you to explore with freedom and creativity?
Esquivel: Memory and imagination can’t really be separated; they are linked. I did need to go into my memories, but not to bring out facts and events, or how things happened, but more to re-create the ambiences, smells, and the general feel of my childhood house. For example, I wanted to unearth how I perceived its light or its dimensions. I wanted to go back to that place and try to perceive the world like a child. Once I was there, in a set of sensations, then the story unfolded. And the story is all fictional and invented.
Jaramillo: The novel goes back to childhood as an attempt to go back to the origins of something. What is the character Ines trying to find in her past?
Esquivel: When I was creating Ines’s voice, I tried to imagine a woman who was going to psychoanalytic therapy. Although this does not appear in the story, this structure became a key feature for me. What Ines is doing, by telling those memories to herself again, is trying to understand why the adults that surrounded her acted like they did and, in the process, trying to understand how these adults affected her. More than trying to find something, she’s trying to make sense of her past. But memories are elusive, and, ultimately, her attempts are revealed as a fickle exercise: memories have a contingent meaning and are volatile.
Jaramillo: As the reader delves into the story, multiple meanings about animals and animality start to emerge. This can be seen, for example, in the title of the book, the games children play, the metaphors the adults are described with, etc. Can you talk about the drive to include animality in the text?
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Our Revenge Will Be the Laughter of Our Children
What is it about the revolutionary that draws our fascinated attention? Whether one calls it the North of Ireland or Northern Ireland, the Troubles continue to haunt the land and those who lived through them.
In a field near the Gaza Strip, a missile strike, visions, and onlookers searching for an explanation.
Surviving and Subverting the Totalitarian State: A Tribute to Ismail Kadareby Kapka Kassabova
As part of the ceremony honoring Kadare as the 2020 laureate—with participants logging in from dozens of countries around the world— Kadare’s nominating juror, Kapka Kassabova, offered a video tribute from her home in Scotland.
Dead Storms and Literature's New Horizon: The 2020 Neustadt Prize Lecture
During the Neustadt Prize ceremony on October 21, 2020, David Bellos read the English language version of Kadare’s prize lecture to a worldwide Zoom audience.
Ismail Kadare: Winner of the 2020 Neustadt International Prize for Literature
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, World Literature Today presented the 2020 Neustadt Festival 100 percent online. In the lead-up to the festival, U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim officially presented the award to Kadare at a ceremony in Tirana in late August, attended by members of Kadare’s family; Elva Margariti, the Albanian minister of culture; and Besiana Kadare, Albania’s ambassador to the United Nations.
How to Adopt a Cat
Hoping battles knowing in this three-act seduction (spoiler alert: there’s a cat in the story).
Chicken Soup: The Story of a Jewish Family
Chickens, from Bessarabia to New York City, provide a generational through-line in these four vignettes.
“Awl” is from a series titled “Words I Did Not Understand.” Through memory—“the first screen of nostalgia”—and language, a writer pieces together her story of home.
Apocalyptic Scenarios and Inner Worlds
A Conversation with Gloria Susana Esquivel
Marie's Proof of Love
People believe, Marie thinks, even when there’s no proof. You believe because you imagine. But is imagination enough to live by?
Colombia is one of the success stories of the Americas. With President Iván Duque coming to the end of his term, he leaves the Andean nation in the best shape yet. Strides have been made across the board, from the country's booming economy and public health infrastructure, to sustainable energy policies and, on the 200th anniversary of bilateral relations with the US, its international standing.
A potent Colombian luxury hospitality renaissance is rising in Cartagena and beyond
Beautiful Colombian model, actress and entrepreneur Daniela Botero is poised to break into the big leagues
Oscar-Worthy Film Locales
Despite the ongoing pandemic, this year the show did go on. Film crews navigated COVID-19 protocols in locations around the globe, from the Jordanian desert (Dune) to the New Zealand mountains (The Power of the Dog) to Hiroshima's cityscape (Drive My Car). Tune in on March 27 (ABC) to see which of the following nominations win top spots at the 94th Academy Awards, hosted by Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes.
FIGHT TO DEATH WITH ESCOBAR'S COCAINE HIPPOS!
Drug king’s escaped pets have bred and are now threatening Colombia’s swamps
Around the World by SCOOTER AND SIDECAR
On October 21, 2017, I found myself rid ing off from London’s iconic Ace Cafe on a Honda SH300i scooter with sidecar. Beside me was my childhood pal, Reece Gilkes. Our destination was the exact spot we were departing from, as the plan was to be the first to ride around the world on a scooter and s idecar.
Caribbean Coral Reefs in Danger of Extinction
“Te world's coral reefs, one of the ocean's most beautiful marine habitats, is in danger of extinction because of dramatic increases in coral diseases caused by climate change and warmer waters”.
hungry hungry hippos
IN 1981, NOTORIOUS drug lord Pablo Escobar imported four hippos from Africa to his estate near Medellín, Colombia. After his death in 1993, the herd meandered into the nearby Magdalena River.
SHOWCASING WHAT YOU BUILD & FLY
An Introduction to Bypassing Locks in Situations Where Your Life Could Depend on It