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Jeremías Gamboa: Contarlo todo [Tell It All]

The topic of journalism is not unknown in the modern English-language novel – examples include Scoop, The Quiet American, Amsterdam and The Shipping News – but the Latin Americans seem to have produced the better examples. This is the third on my website. All three are brilliant novels and all three remain untranslated. (The other two are La Guerra de Galio [Galio’s War] and El traductor [The Translator].) This novel received enormous pre-publication praise, unprecedented, I think, for a first novel, since The Runaway Soul, and we all know how that turned out. Once published, this novel continued to receive praise. The Spanish paper La Razón said su publicación es, quizá, uno de los acontecimientos más importantes de la narrativa latinoamericana de los últimos años [its publication is perhaps one of the most important events of Latin American narrative in recent years] and it received rave reviews in Peru and Spain. While I was not quite as enthusiastic as these reviewers, it is certainly a first-class novel and one which will surely appear in English sooner or later.

It is clearly a semi-autobiographical novel. It tells the story of Gabriel Lisboa, a young Peruvian who is looking back from the end of his twenties at how he got to be a writer, living alone, as he is now. In his story we first see him living with his uncle and aunt. His father, his aunt’s brother, had abandoned his wife and son and his uncle and aunt had taken Gabriel in. (The uncle and aunt are called Emilio and Laura and the book is dedicated by Gamboa to his Aunt Laura and Uncle Emilio.) The uncle and aunt, though not well off – he works as a waiter in a pizzeria – are bringing Gabriel up. Gabriel is studying law at university, with the help of scholarships earned by his good results, and the aid of his uncle and aunt. He has done various odd jobs to help make ends meet. One day, his uncle comes home and tells him that one of his customers, Francisco de Rivera, is the managing editor of a well-known left-wing magazine called Proceso. De Rivera is happy to take Gabriel on as an assistant during the summer, when the university is closed. After what Gabriel calls the shortest interview he ever had, he is indeed taken on. He finds the atmosphere quite intimidating , particularly working with a bunch of experienced old hands who not only are very familiar with all the ramifications of Peruvian politics, a subject about which he knows very little, but also seem to personally know everyone who matters. He starts by reading as much as he can on the subject. When he does write something, it is either rejected or completely rewritten. However, he gradually gets to feel his way around. His chance comes during the Cepena war, a brief border conflict between Peru and Ecuador. One of his older colleagues phones up a friend – former president Fernando Belaúnde – and Gabriel is given the task of taking down the comments of Belaúnde and writing them up. He is gratified to find his article, only mildly edited, appearing in the magazine with his initials. He later gets to write a full article with a full byline. By the end of the summer, he is a fully-fledged junior writer and he returns to university. Because of his good marks, he is able to switch to a better university, where he also gets a scholarship.

At this university he meets Santiago Montero. Montero is a poet and introduces Gabriel to the various poetry activities taking place in the university and the various rival groups of poets. He also helps Gabriel become a writer by introducing him to various writers and critiquing his short story writing. The pair become inseparable, Montero writing his poetry and Gabriel his short stories. They even both enter a competition. They also make a short film together. However, when Montero meets Valeria Klimt, things change. Once he has finished university, because he has done well in his journalism course, he is able to get an apprenticeship with the leading Peruvian weekly publication group, Industria/Semana [Industry/Week]. He has to start doing various other jobs before he can qualify to work at Semana, the weekly news and political magazine, where De Rivera is now managing editor. He works in sports journalism, then women and fashion, writing articles about such topics as orgasms (under a female pseudonym) and then moving on to an entertainment listings magazine called Ocio [Leisure], before finally managing to infiltrate himself into Semana, starting with an article on jukeboxes!

Gabriel wants to be a writer, though he is not sure what kind of writer he wants to be. He continues his friendship with Montero and other writers, learning from them what it means to be a writer. He also broadens his reading. For example, he comes across El invierno en Lisboa (Winter In Lisbon), which initially appeals to him as the title, the Spanish word for Lisbon, is the same as his surname. He starts writing stories, in addition to his journalism activities. And, once he is settled on a journalism career, he starts taking an interest in the opposite sex and we learn about his various relationships, not all of which are successful. In particular, much of the second half of the book is taken up with his tempestuous relationship with Fernanda. He takes up teaching, all the while planning on writing. The book ends when, as he says, he finds his voice, and starts to write the book we are reading.

This is a very fine work, particularly if you like semi-autobiographical novels of the Karl Ove Knausgård type – intense, passionate, very detailed, full of discussions of life and art. While I certainly enjoyed it, I am not entirely convinced that it is the next great thing in Latin American literature, as some Latin American and Spanish critics have claimed. However, I suspect that it will make it into English and will remain a well-read and much-treasured work.

Publishing history

First published in 2013 by Mondadori
No English translation
First published in French as Tout dire in 2016 by Éditions du Seuil
Translated by Gabriel Iaculli