Sun | Mar 7, 2021

Power of the written word - Chilean author seeks to encourage reading and popularising books

Published:Friday | December 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Chilean journalist and author Marcello Simonetti with brothers of Missionaries of the Poor.
Chilean journalist and author Marcello Simonetti at a workshop at University of the West Indies, Mona, with the Spanish Club students.

"Books are a means to an end," says Marcelo Simonetti, Chilean journalist, writer, and screenwriter, and a vociferous proponent of the written word.

His journey to the literary world kicked off literary and figuratively after his childhood dream of becoming a footballer didn't materialise.

"I applied to a professional club," he recalled. "When I reached, there were over 500 kids there."

His romance fizzled in five minutes.

Simonetti forayed into media and became a sports journalist. "One of the high points in my career was to cover the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France," he said, after which, he added, covering local football in Chile did not seem all that enticing.

He has an impressive track record to back him: a writer for Chile-based La Tercera newspaper; author of four novels; two short stories collections, and three children books.

Fast-forward to 2017, enriched with literary sojourns, penning life's experiences, sprinkled with a dash of fiction, he has made his way to Jamaica before the publication of the English edition of his novel Tito, which has been translated from Spanish.

The initiative has been made possible with the support of the Translation Programme for Chilean works abroad under the Ministry of Foreign Relations Directorate for Cultural Affairs (DIRAC).

The English edition of Tito has been published by Ian Randle Publishers and is set to be released in 2018 at the Bocas Literary Festival in Trinidad.

"This is the first time that a Chilean Spanish novel is being translated into English in Jamaica," said Chilean Ambassador to Jamaica Eduardo Bonilla, adding that the initiative is his government's commitment to the promotion of cultural exchange between Chile and Jamaica.

"The translation of Tito will be a great step in popularising and promoting the Jamaican Government's initiative of teaching Spanish as a second language," Ambassador Bonilla said.

Jamaica, like a pot of soup, tends to release its flavours slowly and in layers, and Simonetti was in for a surprise too.

He said that he was particularly intrigued as his perception of the island being a paradise of 'sun, sand, sea, and fun' was dissipated after interacting with people here.


Intellectually stimulating


"This place (Jamaica) has a lot to offer intellectually," he said. "I was very pleased when I interacted with the members of the Spanish Club at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.

"Some of the questions asked," he said, "made me realise that though there are cultural differences between Chile and Jamaica, yet there are a lot of similarities in the circumstances in which the society functions."

Tito is the story of a boy who is trying to understand the complexities of relationships and how to deal with them.

He has to come to terms with the fact that his mother has a boyfriend, and how he, now, has to bite this bitter pill.

"One of these days a friend is going to come over. His name is Leo. He is going to drink some tea with us ..." Tito's mother tells him.

The announcement jolts Tito out of his wits.

"She didn't say more. Or rather, she couldn't say more," Tito continues. "I went running as if I were Usain Bolt, shouting that I had an emergency. And I locked myself in the bathroom ..."

Tito is also seeking answers to some questions of life profound, yet replete with innocence.

"The life of children is so strange," reads a paragraph from the chapter Questions, Question from Tito. "There are so many things that you want to do and so many rules and prohibitions. There are days where I think that someone made a mistake when they decided to invent the world.

"Me," it continues. "I've always wanted to know why airplanes fly, why do bodies float, why are planets round and not squares and rectangles?"

The saga continues.

Back on terra firma, Simonetti was taking queries from UWI students and also class of students at Missionaries of the Poor in Kingston who are currently learning Spanish, on issues facing the people and society in Chile and the similarities that he found during his brief stay in Jamaica.

"Tito's story," he said, "has similarities in the Jamaican society, be it relationships, internal conflicts and the possible solutions to deal with them."

Reading books, according to Simonetti, are formidable force to find some answers.

"There will always be one book, which will show you the world where you fit in," he said. "From that point of view, these experiences of the readers can be seen as life experiences."

Through books, he said, we can build better societies make the world a better place to live, as we seek to find some strands of unity in the myriad of diversity.

The advent of technology and the dependency on devices, he said, should not be taken as a deterrent to reading there is no better companion than a good book, paired with a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, is bliss unlimited.

"People read books for two reasons," he says. "There are those who want to forget what is happening in the world, and then there are those who want to belong somewhere."

Tito is a recommended reading in schools across Chile, Simonetti informed, and he has proposed to Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to include Tito as a recommended text in schools in Jamaica.

Simonetti also met, school teachers, education officials, fellow writers and other literary interests and his local publishers Ian Randle Publishers.

Simonetti said he is excited by the prospects of his visit and is looking forward to sharing Tito, which, he said, is that the coming of age story with its universal themes of boyhood innocence, adolescent fantasies and the magic of first love will strike a familiar chord among young readers in Jamaica.

"People read books for two reasons," he says. "There are those who want to forget what is happening in the world, and then there are those who want to belong somewhere."

In the classrooms, he says, children should be encouraged to read books, as their means to live the past in the present.

"Change will take place regardless," Simonetti said. "There will always be good teachers who will help students build their lives."


• The diversity of the languages, both verbal and critically that of actions, facilitated this interview, thank you Embassy of Chile, and Elena Girvan, secretary to Ambassador Eduardo Bonilla for interpreting.