Writers take inspiration from drug wars: Novels, telenovelas
By Klaus Blume Jan 4, 2012, 14:35 GMT
Berlin - Homicide has inspired literature throughout history, and modern-day Latin America is no exception: bloody clashes among drug cartels have become in recent years the subject of many novels and TV series.
What does a drug lord give his son as a present? Little Tochtli, who already has almost everything, wants a pygmy hippo. So daddy takes him to Africa in order to get one. After all, money is obviously no problem at all for a real 'narco.' And his offspring have so few playmates and can get lonely, since they are brought up under heavy guard at home in Mexico.
The world of drug trafficking in the eyes of a child - such is the subject that Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos tackles in the short novel Down the Rabbit Hole (Fiesta en la madriguera, 2010).
Villalobos is one of many Spanish-speaking writers who have taken artistic inspiration from organized crime, which claimed over 45,000 lives in Mexico alone over the past five years.
Villalobos' compatriot Yuri Herrera takes his readers into the world of the so-called 'narcocorridos,' popular songs with the activities of drug traffickers as their subject matter.
Kingdom Cons (Trabajos del reino, 2004) is the story of a singer who rises from being just a poor guy to being a sort of court musician for a powerful drug boss, the 'king.' He eventually falls into disgrace and barely manages to survive.
Others are not so lucky, and several artists of the so-called Norteno and Banda music that is popular in northern Mexico and also among Mexican-Americans have been killed in recent years.
Indeed, 'narcocorridos' have been banned in recent months in Chihuahua and Sinaloa, two of the most troubled Mexican states.
Police detective Edgar Mendieta must also remain on the alert against the drug gangs. In Elmer Mendoza's 2008 novel Balas de plata (which translates as Silver Bullets), he wants to solve the murder of lawyer Bruno Canizales, who was killed with a silver bullet. The task is most dangerous in a country that has sunk into a morass of corruption, violence and chaos.
Mendoza comes from the north-western Mexican city of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, a stronghold of drug traffickers.
Almost a classic among drug-trafficking-themed novels is The Queen of the South (La reina del sur, 2002), by Spaniard Arturo Perez-Reverte. The main character is Mexican beauty Teresa Mendoza, who rises from a very poor environment to become the head of an international drug gang.
Perez-Reverte's novel was also turned into a telenovela, while the band Los Tigres del Norte devoted a song to Teresa Mendoza.
The 1999 novel Rosario Tijeras, by Colombian author Jorge Franco Ramos, also has a woman as the protagonist. It tells the story of Rosario, a girl who becomes a hired killer for the infamous Medellin drug cartel. She gets her nickname, Tijeras (scissors), from cutting off a rapist's testicles.
Rosario Tijeras made waves across Latin America, because it struck a chord with the young. In Colombia, it also brought in a literary paradigm shift, away from the magical realism of 1982 Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The 2005 novel Sin tetas no hay paraiso (Without Breasts There is No Paradise) also comes from Colombia. In it, author and scriptwriter Gustavo Bolivar Moreno tells the story of 14-year-old Catalina. She and her friends dream of a breast enlargement in order to please a rich drug boss so they can live in luxury.
The novel was adapted into a successful telenovela shown in several Latin American countries.
In Colombia, a writer drew on his own experiences as a former drug trafficker. Andres Lopez Lopez published El cartel de los sapos (The Snitch Cartel, in Spanish) in 2008, to describe from a renegade's point of view a criminal world torn by violence and betrayal. This too was turned into a telenovela.
Not everyone likes this mix between crime and culture. Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli once complained about the brutality of Colombian 'narconovelas,' and that they praise crime.
Bolivar Moreno, for one, rejected this criticism.
'We writers tell of what happens in our times,' he once said Panama City.