Chief News Editor
Rodrigo Hasbún, a Bolivian author, came to speak at the first installment of The Working Writers Series on Thursday, September 21, as well as to read from his novel, “Affections,” in both the original Spanish and the English translation. The event was sponsored by a collaboration between the Spanish and Creative Writing Departments of The College of the Holy Cross.
Hasbún, the author of one other novel and a collection of short stories, spoke of his experience growing up in Bolivia and then living in various parts of the world, including Chile, Spain, New York, and, presently, Texas. His travels and awareness of different cultures have a clear influence in his work, as shown by his portrayal of German immigrants living in Bolivia in his novel.
In 2010, Hasbún was named “one of the twenty best writers in Spanish under the age of 35” by Granta, a British magazine, according to his biography on pushkinpress.com. Hasbún is well-regarded for his work around the world and his work has been translated in twelve different languages.
“Affections” is the story, “loosely based on the truth,” of an immigrant family in Bolivia after the second World War. Hasbún explained during the reading that he had always been fascinated by the story of Klaus Barbie, an infamous Nazi that moved to Bolivia after the war, and after hearing the story of a family that worked for the Nazi propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl, he knew immediately that this was what he wanted to write about.
The book goes into detail about the family’s quest for a legendary Incan city and the fractured family relationships between the father, mother, and three daughters of the Ertl family. The chapters of the novel are told from different perspectives in order to acknowledge the different ways the characters view the events of the novel. During the reading, Hasbún read two chapters in English from the perspectives of two of the daughters, Monika and Trixie, and one in Spanish, again from Monika’s perspective. Hasbún wrote some of the chapters in second person, and he explained that he did this to give a closer look at the thoughts of Monkia while still keeping somewhat of a distance.
A sophomore who attended the reading and read one of Hasbún’s short stories in her Spanish class stated: “Hasbún’s reading depicted literature in a way that is unlike any other literary work I have read before. The excerpts he read from his novel provided a unique perspective on the aftermath of World War II.”
Hasbún spoke of how he knew fairly early in his life that he wanted to be a writer, and how his experience in college as a communications major helped to shape this decision. He told the audience that he tries to be an author twenty-four hours a day, even if that just means being attentive to his surroundings and aware of possible inspirations for writing projects. He also explained that he believed the best thing someone could do who wants to become an author is simply to write every day, even if it is only for a short time, to practice as much as possible.
The College of the Holy Cross Creative Writing Department offers The Working Writer Series as a chance to “[bring] writers to campus to read from their work and interact with students in intimate afternoon craft conversations,” according to the Creative Writing page on the Holy Cross website. In addition to the reading, Hasbún also held a Q&A session on the “Writer’s Craft” earlier in the day and Hasbún visited some Spanish classes that read one of his short stories to allow students to ask him about certain elements of his work and aspects of his writing process.
Hasbún’s “Affections” is available online in both English and Spanish (“Los Afectos”). The author, Jonathan Safran Foer, sums Hasbún up by saying, “He is not a good writer, thank goodness. He is a great one.”