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Colombia’s literary pedigree ranks it among the world’s finest. During the colonial period, Spanish settlers wrote chronicles of conquest and religious devotion. Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, who founded Bogotá and led a disastrous expedition to find El Dorado, wrote of the conquest of the Muiscas in El Antijovio (1567). Juan Rodríguez Freyle, a Spanish priest, wrote extensively about colonial life in early Bogotá in El Carnero (The Sheep) in 1638.

Post-independence, Juan José Nieto wrote Ingermina, o la hija de Calamar (Ingermina, or the Child of Calamar) in 1844, a novel about the conquest of the Calamar Indians. In the late 19th and 20th century, the costumbrismo genre, a colorful depiction of peasant life and criticism of the government, was led by authors like Eugenio Díaz, Candelario Obeso, and Jorge Isaacs. In Risaralda (1936), Bernardo Arías Trujillo explores the lives of Afro-Colombians, their connection with the land and struggle with white dominance.

Perhaps Colombia’s greatest contribution to the literary world is the invention of magico realismo (magical realism). This is the form of writing where elements of magic or fantasy appear in otherwise realistic fiction. The 1967 publication of Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) by Gabriel García Márquez changed Colombian and Latin American literature forever. García Márquez went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, and he is credited with kicking off the Latin American boom that exported literature from the region around the world. Other notable works closely examined life, love, and politics in Colombia, such as 1975’s El otoño del patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch), 1981’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold), and El amor en los tiempos de cólera (Love in the Time of Cholera), 1985. Other notable modern Colombian writers include Laura Restrepo, whose novel Delirium (2004) describes the effect of violence on the individual and a society, and Juan Gabriel Vásquez, whose novel The Informers (2008) is a thriller about corruption in the second half of the 20th century.

Travel writing has also made its mark here. The Fruit Palace (1986) by Charles Nicholl is a true account of a journalist’s quest for a great story about cocaine, based primarily in Santa Marta. Wade Davis details two generations of Amazon explorers in One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazonian Rain Forest (2010). And Ramon Chao’s The Train of Ice and Fire (2010) chronicles his son, musician Manu Chao, and his band as they reconstruct an old passenger train and journey into Colombia’s violent countryside.

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