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Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel

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Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel was born in 1966 in Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country. His parents were from the remote Annobón Island, off the African coast. His books include the novel Avión de Ricos, Ladrón De Cerdos (The Pig Thief And The Rich Man’s Aeroplane) and the short story collection Cuentos Crudos (Raw Tales). By Night The Mountain Burns (Arde El Monte De Noche), his most recent novel, is based on his memories of growing up on Annobón.

Ávila Laurel has been a constant thorn in the side of his country’s long-standing dictatorial government. A nurse by profession, for many years he was one of the best known Equatorial Guinean writers not to have opted to live in exile. But, in 2011, after a week-long hunger strike in protest against Obiang’s regime, timed to coincide with the President of Spain’s visit to Equatorial Guinea, Ávila Laurel moved to Barcelona. He writes across all media, in particular as a blogger, essayist and novelist.

By Night the Mountain Burns

By Night the M B front cover CMYK

More Information

  • Translated by Jethro Soutar.
  • Read more about By Night the Mountain Burns in the book section.
  • By Night the Mountain Burns was one of the titles in our Spanish Reading Group in Autumn 2012.
  • Subscribe to And Other Stories to help us publish this extraordinary book! Subscribe before this book is typeset (subscribe by 5 March 2014) and you will receive the first edition of the book – in which all subscribers are thanked by name – before its official publication, as well as up to 5  other And Other Stories titles per year. Find out about subscribing to upcoming titles here.
  • Read about Ávila Laurel’s hunger strike on the Guardian website, here.
  • Read Ávila Laurel’s blog (in Spanish) here.
  • An early collection of Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel’s short stories and poetry is published online in Spanish: http://www.guineanos.org/
  • Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel was the cover star of the September 2012 World Literature Today magazine:  http://www.worldliteraturetoday.com/2012/september

21 Comments

  1. Elisa Rizo says:

    Juan Tomas Avila Laurel is one of the best writers from Equatorial Guinea. No doubt this is one of his best books yet!
    Great that And Other Stories have chosen to look at such a great book and writer – Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks…
    It would be awesome to have this book available in English as well! Are there any plans for a translation to English?
    Cheers,
    Elisa

    Reply
  2. Stefan Tobler says:

    Hi Elisa,
    Nice to hear you love this writer! Jethro Soutar, a translator, brought his book to our attention, which is why we’re reading it in the reading group.

    What happens after that is undecided: we might decide that the book is great and want to publish it – or that the book is great but not right for our list.
    If another publisher reads about it here and decides to publish it, that’s great too. (We can only publish a handful of new titles each year.)

    It would be lovely if you could tell us more about why you think this book deserves to be published? We’ll have a meet-up in January in London, but it would be nice to talk about the book here online too.

    Reply
  3. Elisa Rizo says:

    Dear Stefan,
    My apologies for the delay. I was traveling.
    Indeed, this is one of Juan Tomas’ greatest works. He has created a literary aesthetics that is informed by this multi-linguial, multi-cultural environment. Thus, his literary style is constituted by images that synthetize his society, reflect on world history and connects Equatorial Guinea to other nations, across time and geography. His literature has generated great interest in the United States, Spain and Latin America, especially among academics. There are a growing number of articles, book chapters, Ph.D. dissertations and masters theses written on the literature by this author.
    I recently had the honor to edit an anthology of selected works by him (“Letras Transversales: obras escogidas de Juan Tomás Avila Laurel. Madrid: Verbum, 2012). I have also published articles about his works extensively. This novel is one of the best that I have ever read! It combines a series of classical elements reformulated in a postcolonial environment in a language that is complex, elegant, attractive and beautiful. I look forward to start the conversation!

    Reply
  4. John McGill says:

    This is fascinating stuff. There is an odd repetitiveness about the narrative, with information offered several times, sometimes with little alteration to wording: a stylistic feature that could perhaps be irritating, but is more likely in this case to be hypnotic. You want more.

    Obviously worth publishing.

    Reply
    • Jethro says:

      Thanks for the comment, John. You’re right about the repetition, and when translating the sample I tried to stay faithful to it as it’s a notable feature of his style. I think it works on two fronts, the first being that it gives the narrative an oral quality, which seems appropriate to the setting. The second is that it shows the emphasis (sometimes the overemphasis) placed on certain ideas, events and preoccupations, in the way that can happen on a small and remote island where there is not a constant flow of incident and information.
      There’s a great Brazilian book called Vidas Secas (Dry Lives) by Graciliano Ramos, set in the northeastern hinterlands. The character’s same rudimentary thoughts, worries and ambitions recur over and over again, and in a sparse vocabulary, the scope of their knowledge and imagination limited by their surrounds. I think Laurel is doing something similar, albeit with a freer use of language. The inhabitants of the island are part of the wider world – indeed dependent on it – but they are excluded from it too.

      Reply
      • “Vidas secas” is on my shelves in both castellano and English – a novel where the reading of the chapters might be in any order without diminishing the “sense” of the narrative. Hopefully readers in English will be able to read “Arde el monte…” one day before too long.

        Reply
      • Benita says:

        I consider Arde el monte de noche as Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel’s best novel without any doubt, i would dare to say that it is also one of the best (if not the best) novel by an Equatoguinean writer. Only one novel from this country has been translated into English thus far: Shadows of your Black Memory, by Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo, translated by Prof. Michael Ugarte and published by Swan Isle Press in Chicago. It is a beautiful edition. A second novel, Ekomo, by María Nsue, is in the process of being published in English as well (I did the translation myself). Ávila Laurel’s translation would be more than welcome for a University audience here in the United States. I entirely support its translation as soon as possible!
        A couple of minor precisions: the author’s full last name is Ávila Laurel; his previous novel is _Avión de ricos, ladrón de credos_ (not the other way around). -:) I truly hope the project goes ahead.

        Reply
  5. One of the best novels Elisa has ever read – high praise indeed! A novel written between languages and cultures sounds like an inventive proposition.
    Has anyone else read it? If so, I’d be really curious to hear your thoughts!

    Reply
  6. Ana Lúcia Sá says:

    Arde el Monte de Noche is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. The story embraces you. About the author childhood in one land and one political context linked to what Fanon called “the wretched of the earth”, it builds a differential consciousness. The literary talent, combined with all the local and Atlantic themes, is moving.

    Reply
  7. Rachael McGill says:

    I’ve read it in the Spanish, and found it intriguing and beautiful – a lovely, deceptively simple style, and subject matter that revolves around a place so strange (and completely unknown to us) that it can’t fail but be fascinating. The author has profound political and philosophical points to make , which stem from anger and passion, but he does it with the lightness of touch that characterises the really accomplished writer – we feel we’re reading a simple story of an island community, but images and ideas linger in the mind. Avila Laurel is a fascinating character himself, and it would be great to see his work in English.

    Reply
  8. Cassie Stafford says:

    I like the extract a lot. It definitely makes me want to read more. the child’s voice is a great way to tell of the ways of the place – unexplained to the narrator, as they are to us, and suggesting darker forces at work. I had never heard of this island, but now I’m going to go and find out!

    Reply
  9. Cátia Miriam Costa says:

    Great news!! Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel is one of my favorite Afircan writers, using irony and yet having a beautiful writing that makes us create all the environment of the fiction. I hope I can read him soon in English!

    Reply
  10. Mariella Mancino says:

    This extract is interesting and well written. It is a pleasure to read such a confident voice. I would love to read the whole novel in English. There is not enough published about the African rural experience, but I think there is a fascination with it and a demand for it.

    Reply
  11. A quiet narrative – attractive from the outset. One would hope there are moments of a different dynamic, perhaps the signalled “frightening” event, but I like the meditative note as a basis.

    I’m interested to understand more of this island, and its relations with the “friendly nation”, and generally enjoy the creation of “unknown” or “un-located” regions to read from. There is a lot held back by the narrator, which promises an interesting and provocative read. By far the best of the three offerings here.

    Reply
    • I ought to add that I’m not considering the nature of the AOS list in any of this – indeed, as a recent subscriber, I’ve yet to work out what “we’re” looking for. (The idea of opening excerpts to comment by many is to be applauded.)

      Reply
  12. Lluís Rodríguez says:

    Su lectura atrapa al lector ya en los primeros instantes y lo transporta de inmediato a un mundo sugerido de imágenes y sonidos que el narrador ofrece con un estilo cercano y franco. Recomendable.

    Reply
  13. Dan Kidd says:

    A fascinating backstory, and a distinctive voice if the extract is anything to go by. Would be fantastic if more from this part of the world, which I know precious little about, was available in English. I second those hoping that the translation project goes ahead!

    Reply
  14. Josie Kelly says:

    Really enjoyed this extract and would love to read more (in English as sadly I can’t speak any other languages). I particularly like the innocence of the language used by the narrator but, like others have commented, it provides enough political and social undertones for any reader who has an awareness of the unfairness of the world. A small part of me doesn’t want to read on as I’m already sympathetic to the narrator, even after reading this short extract, and I’m worried about the troubles that are about to effect the island. I’ll never know unless this book gets translated.

    Reply
  15. I was completely captivated by the extract from Jethro Soutar’s translation of BY NIGHT THE MOUNTAIN BURNS, the novel by Juan Tomas Avila Laurel.

    There is a quiet sense of menace that grows louder throughout the piece, evident in the hovering presence of the boats from unknown places, the absence of fathers “we never spoke of”, and of things only ever seen at a distance. And it seems to be a menace that contrasts completely with the measured, restrained tone of the narrator’s unadorned reportage. The directness of the storytelling is perfect for the content. No embellishment is necessary for a tale of this kind, a point that seems reinforced, somehow, by the moment at which the voice itself gives way under the weight of what it must relate, in the episode about the women being sent to the visiting boat to barter for goods (“I remember that one of the women told me… No, nobody told me anything.”)

    While the voice struck me throughout as entirely new and unique, it was also one that put me in mind of Camus; the extract’s level of suspense and intrigue, coupled with the constant suggestion of a kind of horror, provided vivid and compelling glances towards The Outsider.

    I enjoyed the adroitness of the shifts from personal to general (“My grandfather…”; “All men…”) and found that the directness of the language itself allowed for a narrative pace that made the piece compellingly readable. Not only is this a story that taps knowingly into a rich literary heritage of ‘Island Narrative,’ of stories of Old Men and The Sea, but also one that meets head on and more than answers Henry James’s insistence on a writer paying heed to the importance of the things that are not spoken, nor even thought of.

    By the end of the extract, the narrative voice has promised much as the teller of a tale, his ‘oral history’ incantatory tone shot through with sudden glimpses of something even darker, and more frightening still, than what is actually told. That this is underpinned always by the desperate lament of a child: “We didn’t really count,” serves to anchor the story even more firmly in a deep sense of melancholy which, in its echoes and repetitions, lends the work something of the structure of a series of lamentations.

    On reaching the point at which the extract ends, I was left feeling both bereft and, at the same time, full of expectation. It is a story that, having begun, I would like to be able to reel in and read the whole of.

    Reply
  16. gunter says:

    recomendado con mayúsculas, prosa bien descriptiva y trabajada.

    Reply
  17. Melaina Barnes says:

    The story made me think of other island stories full of details of daily life and acceptance of its strangeness, such as Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book – although that’s a very different tone of story telling – spare, northern, full of confidence that the strangeness will yield something good. Whereas this story lilts and meanders with its musings and repetitions, taking us into the workings of island life, giving us theories about why things might be the way they are, even as they are being remembered, worked out, worked over, discarded, all of which seems necessary to create space for knowing about the bad things that are coming.

    I had not heard of the writer before reading this translated extract, but I would like to know more of this story, hear more of this voice.

    Reply

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