Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Written In Spanish About Belgium By A Colombian, 'It Feels American'

Juan Gabriel Vásquez is best known for his 2013 blockbuster novel The Sound of Things Falling. But more than a decade before that book vaulted him onto the international literary stage, he published a well-reviewed collection of short stories in Spanish.

Now, that collection, Lovers on All Saints' Day, is getting an English translation.

"The book as a whole is quite concerned with the idea of a couple revisiting a moment in their past to try to see what they have become and try to salvage what they can," Vasquez tells NPR's Arun Rath.


"Sadly, in most of the stories, they are not really successful."

Interview Highlights

On the collection's composition

The stories are built in such a way that they communicate with each other, that they echo each other. I had the toughest time just rearranging these stories, placing them in the right order so that idea of stories playing with each other, communicating with each other, really worked in the way I wanted it to work.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez's previous books include <em>The Sound of Things Falling</em>, <em>The Informers</em> and <em>The Secret History of Costaguana</em>.
Hermance Triay
Courtesy of Riverhead Books
Juan Gabriel Vásquez's previous books include The Sound of Things Falling, The Informers and The Secret History of Costaguana.

You will be curious, maybe, to know that in the first Spanish edition, the order of the stories is not the same as in the English translation, because I came to realize after many years that ... I could use that communication between the stories in a better way if I changed the order. The sum of the parts is more than the total.

On American and English influences

They are set in France and Belgium, which are the countries I lived in between 1996 and 1999. The book was published in 2001, so it has been 14 years. ... I think I needed a readership who understood the genre of the story.

The short story, as a genre, is very American. Its relationship with the English language is very good, and this book in particular was built on influences ranging from [James] Joyce's Dubliners to John Cheever's books in America, and [Raymond] Carver's, and maybe a little of John Updike and Richard Ford. So it feels American.

On his English translator, Anne McLean

I think I was very lucky to meet Anne McLean. I think she's the best translator my books could have into the English language. She allows me to participate in the creation of the new thing. I have been a translator myself for some years. I used to translate books from English and French. So I know that one of the worst things that can happen to a translator is to work with another who thinks they know your language. I think Anne is very tolerant with me; she allows me to give her my opinions, and we work really closely.

On never settling down in one place for too long

I lived for 13 years in Barcelona, [Spain,] and it's a town where many important things happened for me. I started publishing, my girls were born while I was here. So the place holds fond memories for me. My wife and I have agreed that eventually we will come back to Barcelona.

Right now, we have moved back to Bogotá. We have spent three years already, and I think we will stay in Bogotá for two more years. But the fact is, we love to move! We actually like the feeling of not really belonging somewhere: Being Colombian, but at the same time having this history with different places that will allow us to feel comfortable in them, or at least equally uncomfortable, which is interesting too.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit