A Chat with Novelist Edmundo Paz Soldán

By Eliana Miller ’20

Many students spend hours conducting research and analyzing works of fiction in an attempt to deduce an author’s intentions.

In Imaginary Cities/Real Cities in Latin America, a Hispanic Studies seminar taught by Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Carolyn Wolfenzon Niego, students had the chance to speak directly with Bolivian author Edmundo Paz Soldán about his novel Sueños Digitales and his motives for writing the book. For over an hour, students spoke with Paz Soldán about his literary influences, how modern politics has shaped his writing, and what he is working on next. 

Imaginary Cities/Real Cities in Latin America focuses on how urban life is portrayed in Latin American literature. Students first studied fictionalized cities such as Comala in Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, Macondo in multiple stories by Gabriel García Márquez, Santa María in El astillero by Juan Carlos Onetti,  Estación Olivo in El lugar sin límites​ by Chilean writer José Donoso, and Río Fugitivo in Paz Soldán’s Sueños Digitales.

The second part of the course is looking at different representations of the city of Lima, Peru, in works of fiction and nonfiction. The class traces themes of modernization, marginalized communities, and neocolonialism, focusing especially on stories of transculturation.

Students in class
Students chatted with the author in the library's telepresence room

Before chatting with Paz Soldán, student read his third novel, Sueños Digitales, in which a photo editor begins manipulating and falsifying images for a newspaper as he questions his morals and the effects of rapid technological advances in the fictionalized city of Río Fugitivo.

Paz Soldán told the class that Río Fugitivo was based both on his hometown, Cochabamba, Bolivia, and on Ithaca, New York, where he currently lives, working as a professor of Spanish literature at Cornell University. Paz Soldán said he wanted to depict a modern Latin American city grappling with dreams of modernization and a history of colonization. Sueños Digitales portrays Bolivian politics, with a critical, fictionalized version of Hugo Banzer, president of Bolivia from 1971 to 1978, and then again from 1997 to 2001.

Paz Soldán has written ten novels and is known for his involvement in the McOndo movement, a recent Latin American literary tradition that shies away from magic realism and instead focuses on cosmopolitan narratives in Latin America. Students were especially intrigued by themes of technology in Paz Soldán’s work. Published in 2001, Sueños Digitales was at first likened to science fiction for its portrayal of photo manipulation. Now, in 2018 the story feels more familiar, akin to a work of historical fiction about the effects of fake news and thoughtless innovation.

"As a student of literature and a writer myself, I am grateful for having gotten to talk to an author as prominent as Paz Soldán. He not only gave us insight into his novels specifically, but also his writing process. As our class moves forward and begins to discuss real cities, the fictionalized spaces we have read about, such as Río Fugitivo, will prove to be an interesting comparison point as we ask, how much does fiction differ from reality?” — Eliana Miller ’20