Recreating History

The Crimson recently spoke with Homero Aridjis, one of Mexico's foremost poets and author of 1492. The following are excerpts from that conversation:

Q: No reader can miss the extraordinary historical detail you bring to 1492. What problems did you encounter in writing a historical novel?

A: My goal was to use historical detail as much as possible. If a character is entering a city, he must use the right bridges of the period, he must enter the proper gates. On the streets he must meet the people of the time.... Sometimes this [research] was not a problem. For example, the Inquisition, which was repressive in the manner of Stalin's police or the Gestapo, was also very methodic. In their documents they recorded everything they did. They list every name and every accusation. I made use of such documents.

Q: And what other documents did you rely on?

A: I used chronicles, travel literature, and the annals of the town criers, because they were the heralds of the news of the time. I needed to get the spirit of the language....If I needed to find out whether a market place is indoors or outdoors, one day a week or every day, I had to find the documents. All of these details affected my characters, where they could go and when.


Q: I've read your novel Persphone and looked at some of your poetry, and 1492 seems to be a significant departure from your previous work.

A: Yes, well, Persephone was written twenty years ago. A writer changes greatly in that time. I was very young then. The novel reflects a youthful poetry. A writer is always changing.

Q: Is the historical novel something you will continue with?

A: Well, the second volume is called Memories of the New World. It is the sequel to 1492 and has already been published in Spanish. It will soon be available in English. It won the National Literature Prize for novels written in Spanish in 1988.

Q: Can you speak about your involvement in Mexican politics?

A: Well I am president of the Group of 100. That is the leading environmental organization in Mexico and very important internationally. This group is composed of literary figures, painters, artists.

Q: It always seems that in Latin America, intellectual and artistic figures play a more prominent role in public life than they do here.

A: Yes, because for us it is so vital. There is more adversity confronting our people. And we are in a position of responsibility to influence such issues as human rights, public health and the environment.

Q: Do you incorporate this responsibility into your art or do they remain separate?

A: No, no. They are integrated. In my next novel-the one I am working on now-ecology is very important.

Interview conducted by Alex E. Marashian.