Chilean Hernán Rivera Letelier was granted the Alfaguara Novel Award, one of Spain’s most important literature prizes, for his work El Arte de la Resurrección (The Art of Resurrection).
Rivera’s success emulates that of his compatriot Carlos Droguett, who in 1970 became the first Chilean to win the prestigious award with his book “Todas esas muertes.”
The announcement that the South American writer had been awarded the prize was made public at a meeting held in the headquarters of the Santillana publishing firm in Madrid, which was attended by journalists and writers, in addition to the distinguished Spanish novelist and commentator Manuel Vicent, president of the contest’s panel of judges.
Set in the Chilean desert, the winning novel describes the adventures of the “Christ of the Elqui Valley,” a sort of Chilean messiah called Domingo Zárate Vega, who travelled the Elqui Valley, inland from Coquimbo and La Serena, working a series of “miracles.”
“The first thing that came to me was that the little Christ would start with miracles again, because the novel is about the Christ of Elqui and the guy is working miracles again,” Rivera said in a telephone interview from his home in Antofagasta, northern Chile.
“‘El arte de la resurrección’ tells the story of an enlightened man, a man who wandered the Chilean desert in 1930 preaching and working miracles. The story’s about a real guy, but it’s written like a novel,” the author explained.
The enlightened Domingo Zárate thus makes yet another appearance in Chilean literature with this work. He previously appeared in “Los trenes van al purgatorio (Trains go to Purgatory),” also by Rivera, and in “Sermons of the Christ of Elqui,” by the anti-poet Nicanor Parra.
Born in 1950 in Talca, capital of the Maule Region, a city devastated by the earthquake that hit last 27 February, Rivera – who moved to northern Chile when he was very young and grew up surrounded by the nitrate mines that were the country’s main source of wealth at the time – takes the time to analyze Chilean literature.
“We’re world champions in poetry, but we still have a long way to go in prose. I think that in prose it is more the Argentines, the Mexicans and even the Peruvians, but when it comes to poetry we’re champs,” says the author of Fatamorgana of Love with Music Band.
When interviewed on the tragic events that were unleashed on Chile in late February, Rivera said that in honor of the earthquake and tsunami victims he was requesting that next year’s International Congress of the Spanish Language be held in Chile.
“The Congress of the Spanish Language was held virtually, over the Internet, but I think that in honor of Chile and the victims of the tragedy they should hold it here in Chile next year.”
Raised in “the most badass desert in the world,” as he tends to describe the Atacama Desert, the author is a self-taught man who believes that perseverance and constancy are the keys to success and has published other books, such as “La Reina Isabel cantaba rancheras” (Queen Elizabeth Sang Rancheras), (Himno del ángel parado en una pata” (Hymn of the Angel Standing on One Leg),”El fantasista” (The Fantasist) “Mi nombre es Malarrosa” (My Name is Malarrosa) and “La contadora de películas” (The Movie Teller).
He is currently one of the most widely read authors in Chile, where he has on the National Book Council Prize twice. This latest distinction for the Chilean was highlighted in important media outlets from Spain, Mexico and Colombia.