Book reviews, Culture

Juan Madrid: “Unwavering loyalty creates idiots”

He may have the name of a fictional character, but in fact he is a writer, born in Malaga, who came to create a detective by the name of Tony Romano; therefore, nobody was surprised that while he was passing through Caracas, he gave talks about cities and the profound structure of crime fiction.  


Juan Madrid
Juan Madrid

Jesús Adonis Martínez


The well-known Spanish storyteller, journalist and director is interested in the ‘realities and fictions of Latin American urban areas’ and perhaps because of this – beyond his recent talk at the Venezuela Book Fair – he spoke to The Prisma about what he could see while in the capital, and on the purpose of literature to act as a scalpel on society.

“I saw an awful tragedy, but at the same time it was full of hope”, the writer assures us, alluding to Caracas, which has been very emotional and excitable in recent days, after the death of President Hugo Chávez.

Juan Madrid 16The author of “Nada que hacer”, “Dias contados” and “Tánger” – and a large shelf of books besides – looks out from the bottom of his lenses and speaks an undiluted and relaxed Spanish, which only now and then comes to a halt with a definitive phrase: ‘A town like that is invincible’, he says.

Madrid argues that in this city, he has found “the pain of a nation, which is sometimes filled with a nourishing vitality”. And, he says “I find that it’s stronger than ever’.

Despite being used to dealing with types of every kind, including the groups of characters from Hammett or Chandler, or his own, which are so faithless, so cynical or naive, returning to everything or nothing, Madrid still finds things in this world that surprise him.

He admits, for example, his “genuine surprise” at the lack of coherent proposals and discourse from the Venezuelan opposition.

Juan Madrid 10 “As much as I have tried to argue with some of the spokesmen for the oligarchy in this country, they haven’t told me anything; the only thing I said to them was that the president (Chávez) was mad, which just put me in with the United States, or even, suggests that I have an ideology that is alien to Latin America, which demonstrates a bestial ignorance.”

This expert on political intrigue seems not to find a plot in the story of Venezuelan right: their policies “won’t go anywhere”, he guesses. “I think that these people, to win, will have to invent a type of theme park and blow it up using dreams; although I don’t think that there is a possibility of doing it because the people are very politicised and aware. That’s what I’ve seen”.

Juan Madrid 13But Juan Madrid is not a political scientist, nor anything similar.

“I’m not a Wise Man, I’m a writer and a writer produces books. And I don’t do anything else but produce books’, he snaps.

For Madrid, a book is something of an antidote to the ‘insupportable’ evil of unwavering thought.

“A book is not an enemy, it doesn’t kill, it doesn’t make people ill by contagion”, he diagnoses.

Something he detests is the overabundance of information in the modern world, “we have to put a stop to this shit because the majority of it is stupid information”, he says.

Juan Madrid 5 Juan Madrid “When I was little I went to an American circus, which had three rings, and I learned nothing. I prefer one ring with a guy doing one thing, and then another, without so much capitalist fabrication”.

For some time, Juan Madrid has been considered one of the big names in crime fiction in the Spanish language, together with, let’s say, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

In every aspect, he never rests on his laurels and gives assurances that he is always working. His last title, “Los hombres mojados no temen la lluvia”, seems to be another well-seasoned thriller: “speculation, corporate terrorism, manipulation, double truths, double morality and double accounting”.

Juan Madrid 14Madrid offers the opinion that the noir genre has to be ‘a dissection’ of modern societies, but believes that “the principle function of literature is to offer an alternative to power”.

He recognises that in each context, the result will be different, but he notes that “a novel that criticises always has to exist”.

The father of the tavern owner Romano and the gypsy Flores, the inspector of the literary and literary Brigada Central, is clear that “unwavering loyalty creates idiots, and that isn’t a good thing”.

Juan Madrid 15Better, Madrid clarifies: “Form and substance are everything, but the novel also has to have a good internal logic” .

“The first commitment of a writer is to his art”, he remembers.


(Translated by Daniela Fetta)


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