Andrés Felipe Solano, the bridge between Bogotá and Seoul | International
“It is Saturday and the North Korean government has announced that it will turn Seoul into a sea of fire. For now that is not a problem, the real tragedy is that this morning we woke up without coffee. Not a spoonful ”, writes Andrés Felipe Solano about his adoptive country in Korea, notes from the tightrope. Scarcity, he says, leads him to take the subway to a place where grains are brought directly from Colombia, his country of origin, to the other side of the world. After eight long years of living in Seoul, he has become a particular chronicler in Spanish of a society prepared for a war to break out at any moment against its northern neighbors. But despite his apocalyptic fears, the end of the world never comes. His wife liquidates her paranoia when she tells him that, ever since he can remember, war always breaks out in March.
Solano (Bogotá, 44 years old) achieved early notoriety. He was included more than a decade ago in the list of the 22 best young narrators in Latin America by the British magazine great. His first two novels save me joe louis (2007) Y The Raven Brothers (2012), are set in the Colombian capital where he grew up and lived for more than 30 years, but he is already approaching a decade in Seoul, where he moved after marrying a Korean in a Confucian wedding that one of so many journalistic chronicles that he has already been leaving behind. He is still worried about the vertigo of gradually detaching himself from his roots. The longest account of his migrant life, Korea: notes from the tightrope, originally published in Chile by the Diego Portales University, won the Colombian Narrative Library Award in 2016, has been republished by Planeta and translated into Korean. This Saturday it presents a revised edition at the Bogota Book Fair, FILBo, in which the guest country is, precisely, South Korea. In June, Colombia will be at the Seoul Book Fair, and Solano will once again be the protagonist as an unusual connector between the literatures of the two countries.
Returning to that book after so many years “was like looking into someone else’s life, even though I don’t feel totally assimilated,” says the author in a bookstore cafe in the north of Bogotá, where he is getting ready to give a talk about the influence of the Colombian capital in The Raven Brothers. In a wink of fate, his father now also grows the grain on a farm in the Colombian coffee zone, where he visited him just landed on this occasion to cushion the jet lag. Within the framework of FILBo, he will give other talks on Korean authors; great, who just made a new list, and writing in the midst of the pandemic. Living in Korea somehow distances him from the showcase of Latin American letters, but he doesn’t complain. “It has kept me away from what they call a literary life, but it has allowed me to write,” he values. He recalls that, ultimately, “to emigrate is to get away from oneself,” a phrase he recently read to the Greek Theodor Kallifatides, who writes in Swedish, in Another life to live.
Solano has already made a life for herself in Seoul. He has always lived in homes in the cosmopolitan neighborhood of Itaewon, with views of the old Yongsan military base, in the center of the capital, a first reference to the passage of time. The last occupants of the United States Army are now ready to abandon it once and for all. “I hope that by the time it becomes a park we will still be living here,” he writes in the foreword to the new edition of Notes from the tightrope. “Unlike the two suitcases where we kept all our belongings in the winter of 2013, when I started writing this book just installed in Seoul, in the summer of 2021 we filled a large truck from a junk company. We had already moved once in 2015, always in the same area.”
The base, in the middle of Seoul, occupies an area as big as New York’s Central Park. In a new twist, the president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, who takes office on May 10, has decided that he will not dispatch from the traditional Blue House, at the foot of a mountain. He intends to move the presidential office to the Ministry of Defense, which is located at the Yongsan base. “We don’t know if the park will exist or not. Korea moves very fast, and one cannot understand what is happening”, explains Solano.
The role of Colombia in the Korean War, the only country in Latin America that heeded the call of the United Nations Organization to support the south after the invasion of the North in 1950, had fascinated him since before he became a migrant. More than 5,000 Colombian soldiers traveled more than 15,000 kilometers between the ports of Buenaventura and Pusan, and when the armistice that ended hostilities was signed -on July 27, 1953-, the South Americans accumulated 196 dead and missing, and more than 400 wounded. The third article he wrote for the magazine trading cards when he was a fledgling journalist it was about a war veteran, and he took up that investigation in his novel neon cemeteries (2016).
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Today it corroborates that this participation is still very present in South Korea, either in the war museum, where there is a room with objects related to Colombia, or in the cemeteries. “A couple of years ago I accompanied some people from the embassy because they were going to put a plaque in a small town, right next to the border with North Korea, because many Colombian soldiers fought there. They practically prevented that little town from ending up on the other side of the border.”
The geography of Seoul has displaced that of Bogotá in his work. Of the six books she has published, four have been written there and three deal directly with Korea. The most recent is the essay The days of the fever (Today’s Topics, 2020), in which he rebuilds the response to the coronavirus pandemic in the Asian country. already in Notes from the tightrope I had pursued that form of writing that mixes elements of an intimate blog, street impressions and reflections sprinkled with literary and cinephile references. “I never learned to drive, I have always walked the cities, and to that extent Seoul is in her books because I have walked it, I have appropriated it.”
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