I discovered Bolivian writer Liliana Colanzi´s short story collection Nuestro Mundo Muerto/ Our Dead World (gorgeous edition by Mexican publisher Almadia) last November. I had bought the copy at the Guadalajara book fair and read it in San Miguel de Allende: sitting cross-legged among the cacti at the lush botanic gardens above the city. Reading while vultures circled in the skies above me, a hot gust of wind rising from the gorge, nobody in sight as far as the horizon. I stayed for hours, the stories amplified by the piercing sun and lone stillness around me.
I read "I Pray for You" last week in a very different setting (both work): on my bus-ride home from the movies, having just seen Yourself and You, the latest by Korean movie director Hong Sang-soo. Both deal with: Love and Drinking. The story begins with: “They were drunk when he proposed (to get married).”
While reading "I Pray for You", I had flashes of dark, violent road-movies: Wild at Heart, Perdita Durango, a barren desert landscape, a road stretching out before us, pitch-black night, weird and lonesome characters. We breathe the hot tar of the nightly highway, the endless desert, the smell of empty beer-cans and despair. The end of an affair. A woman walking back home along the side of the road, alone. An end, a beginning. Tension and release. An impending fateful turn. Broken innocence.
The taste of this story is a) very atmospheric and b) highly cinematographic, as are others of her stories. The psychology of her characters is always subtle, you have to be observant as a reader. Colanzi likes to dissect an event that works as a turning-point, a before and after, that reveals our characters personality not always visible at first sight. She is a writer of few words, essential dialogue. She seems to be the opposite of superficial; maybe part documentary-maker, part psychotherapist. Scraping at the surface to get to the bottom of things, like a gold-digger.
Colanzi has an acute sense of observation – of people and spaces & landscapes (which she gives a starring role). The scenes in her stories play out neatly, unstoppably, often with no final judgment, morale, or reason. The narrator steps back, giving precedence to the characters. We become part of the scene, sitting in the back of the car driving down that highway, empty beer-cans at our feet, uncomfortable witness to the break-up that´s about to take place. We walk away from her stories with a fleeting taste, a hint of sensation rooted in our minds - often without closure but never unsatisfied, on the contrary- her stories open up a door.
Colanzi has a unique voice: sensitive and yet not afraid of depicting psychological & physical violence. Smart, thoughtful and powerful. Snippets of life on the other side of the world – cinemas, universities, villages, taxi-rides, the road… all populated by breathing, feeling, complex human beings of all ages. There is a real richness and realness to the fabric she weaves and I look forward to reading more.