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The power of the written word

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The power of the written word

A goddess with the power of oblivion, by Fermín Beltrán Barragán, the best-selling book at the Filvorágine International Book Fair


By: Ana Patricia Collazos

During the last FIlvorágine, one of the literary novelties was the book by Fermín Beltrán Barragán from Huila entitled Una Diosa con el poder del Olvido. An excellent conversation moderated by the writer Eduardo Tovar, before an audience that filled the Alicia de la Feria reading room, showed the different facets of the creative and editorial process of the book, which led to lines forming in front of the table set for the author’s signature on purchased books. In the end, almost a hundred books came out with new readers of the writer’s debut work that presents a series of stories where his rural origin and his surprising imagery have captivated this publication from the regional publisher Tierra de Palabras.

In this interview with the writer we will learn more about this great writer.

What was your childhood like and how does the rural context contribute to your training as a writer?

I was born on a farm, in Santa María Huila, in the middle of the central mountain range. In those times, peasant children were born on the farms. Life was tough, but magical. I lived my early years and much of my youth in the countryside. Peasant life was an extraordinary universe, stories abounded and almost all the peasants I met in those times were storytellers. There were real stories, but a lot of fantasy, myths, legends and ghosts. All this combined with a strong religious presence. We lived with beings from other worlds, the devil, witches, and angels were everywhere. We didn’t have electricity, so late at night we would go to the patio to listen to stories and if there was a moon, we would even see the hunters walking on it. In such a way that, as soon as I learned to read, I began to write poetry, stories, I wanted to tell stories. I think that the writer does not write alone, it is the invisible beings that are everywhere that help to build and the field is full of those beings. In short, the rural context was decisive in my training as a writer, although my goal was not to publish, I never stopped writing and there were many occasions that I erased what I had written and started again.

How long have you been writing stories?

I started writing poetry as a child, the stories came later, in my youth. From then on I was hunting stories and giving them fiction, deforming and creating characters. Writers never detach themselves from their own reality, they write from their experience and their memory.

Why is memory important?

Because what is not remembered simply does not exist. There is a relationship between consciousness and memory, when you fall asleep you pause, you wake up and hours have passed and you don’t know what happened during that time because there was no memory. But I claim oblivion, memory has strength, but oblivion is devastating. Forgetting is a power that breaks consciousness. What is forgotten does not exist, it does not cause emotion. The goddess of oblivion has the power to make people disappear. It happens to all of us that there are situations, characters, events that we do not remember and that for some reason someone or something gives them presence, at that moment the memory surfaces and pain, fear and sadness can arise.

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─ What books have marked your life?

Many. The first was an illustrated edition of AESOP’S FABLES, which became the basis of my imagination, the fable gives voice to those who have no voice and puts them in dialogue in multiple circumstances. I studied radio for some years of my high school and the literature fascicles were extraordinary, they led me to read LOS RÍOS PROFUNDOS, by José María Arguedas, an excellent narrator from Peru. THE ILIAD by Homer, he has always been with me, THE VORAGÍN accompanies me; ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE is a marvel and some works by Dostoyevsky, such as CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and THE PLAYER. PEDRO PÁRAMO, takes me on his constant travels. There are really many authors who stalk me, among those today Rosa Montero and Vargas Llosa, they are really good.

─ Why do you write?

I write to stay on the edge between memory and oblivion. Especially to remember. To vindicate the invisible beings that are everywhere. They have taught me so much, they have told me so much. I write so that everything inside me can be expressed and shared. Sometimes I reread my writings and think that they are not my writings, sometimes I don’t even remember that I was the author. It’s incredible, the lyrics make us stay a little beyond our temporalities.

─ Now that you have read it in a printed book, how do you feel?

I feel the deep emotion of having dared to expose my soul. Readers write to me and tell me things that not even I had thought of. What is written is written. Sometimes they tell me that the story was missing an event. I tell them it’s fiction, but they bring it to reality as if it were a story. All of that is exciting. The reader participates and fortunately I have had many readers and that has given me significant growth.

This is one of the stories that we can find in this book published by Editorial Tierra de Palabras.

Pacho Ríos, the Dog Seller.

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Behind a bush, in a ranch of bahareque whitewashed with lime, lived a man alone. He would be sixty years old. Every morning he filled a mug with red wine, turned up the volume on the radio and looked at the road, which was next to the waters of a russet river. Twelve dogs accompanied him, all small and skinny, they licked him, followed him wherever he went, slept with him and woke him up with bites on his feet and licks in his mouth. It was a symphony of love, of a deep love that melted them into a different being. When the man walked, everyone walked with him and it seemed as if he had many feet; Love builds silhouettes, different bodies, a gale that prevails in wide places, on narrow paths.

Pacho Ríos was a wanderer. After drinking red wine in the morning, he would start walking and return at dusk. “Here comes Don Pacho, tie up the dogs,” they said and Don Pacho arrived with all of his animals. “Good morning, here I bring you some babies, let’s see which one you buy me.” The business began at seven in the morning, each dog was checked: “the spotted one looks sick, that one doesn’t,” “I like the black one.” The man tied the chosen one by the neck, caressed him for a long time, said that he was the best, that her mother was a very healthy and brave specimen, when she was there no one came into the farm, she had a good bite. “This dog is worth a thousand pesos, yes sir, a thousand pesos.”

The Father was silent, he thought, he calculated, he went to the pasture and returned while the man waited, “I’ll give you five hundred pesos.” Again the stretched, mysterious silence, again the caresses and even a tear. The man would never see “Negro” again. “I’ll leave it at nine hundred, not one less.” The circle continued and the night began to capture time. “Seven hundred pesos”, “well, eight hundred”, “seven hundred forty”, “no, seven hundred fifty”. The two men looked at each other, they stayed still, they observed each other like fighting cocks. “You are very tough, Don Pacho, come back another day”; “I’ll be back another day, the night caught me.” And the man went away like a single shadow, with his twelve dogs.

We all looked out until we heard the last bark. The Father was imposing: “he leaves it cheaper, he doesn’t have enough money for the meat,” he said. Although we didn’t think Juan Marcos either. It was not the first time that he saw Pacho Ríos. For as long as he could remember, every Saturday he came with the same dogs, they checked them one by one and they always chose the black one and started at a thousand pesos, but they never closed the deal. Pacho didn’t want to sell; In fact, all the neighbors say that he had never sold one of his dogs. If they offer him what he asks for, he tells them “… better not, do you want to knock me down? That dog is worth two thousand pesos.” And he immediately leaves.

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Juan Marco understood, half a century later, that those rituals were just a cure for loneliness, that the two men just wanted to talk, play with words. No one wanted to buy, no one wanted to sell. For them it was a ritual to tie and untie “Negro”. Pacho Ríos returned to his house, on light feet, counted his animals one by one and went to sleep with them. The next day he would stand up, open the notebook and check with difficulty which neighbor he would visit. He would sell again to Spots or Black, or maybe to Mona, he would eat and so would his dogs.

Pacho Ríos died on Maundy Thursday and his dogs mourned his absence, their howls carried down to the church and then to the cemetery. Next to the grave you can see the dogs scratching the grass at night. There are twelve shadows that search for the feet of their companion. They never find him because Pacho Ríos is sleeping to leave early, since he “has dogs to sell,” and the buyers wait with their eyes open.

Juan Marcos in no way considered Pacho Ríos dead, he could hear the dogs sniffing at night when there was no moon, on the upper side, on the other edge, in the forest below; He told his brothers and they did not believe him. Until one night when they saw him pass by, too old, tired, sad, calling, looking for his friends, while his friends howled at the foot of a cross, on the other side of the town. Juan Marcos thought that love is sometimes not found, lovers get lost in the traps of the road, but in essence they are a single shadow, a single being, a timeless gale.


He was born in Santa María, Huila, southern Colombia. He grew up among the Andean mountains and peasant life, which allowed him to connect with nature and the Cosmos. Since he was little he has had a great passion for writing poems, stories and stories. Books have been his permanent companions in all his life actions.

He is a lawyer from the National University of Colombia, with a long career in public life, directing educational and professional training matters. He has been a university professor and columnist.

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