Luis Fayad: A Writer Looks at Lebanese Influence in Colombian Literature

By Emilia Perez

Luis Fayad

MADRID – Colombian author Luis Fayad said on Wednesday that the Lebanese mark on his nation’s literature is more apparent in the works of authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Dario Ruiz Gomez than in those of descendants of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Colombia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The writers of Lebanese ancestry “have neither the obligation nor very often the desire or inclination to write about the Lebanese, (choosing) instead to write about Colombians,” said Fayad, who took part Wednesday in a discussion about Colombian-Arab literature at Madrid’s Arab House cultural center.
Fayad, who was born in Bogota in 1945, said he never thought he would write a book about Lebanese emigration to the Americas, and especially to Colombia, but eventually explored that topic in “La caida de los puntos cardinales” (The Fall of the Cardinal Points).
“And why? Any Colombian could’ve written it, and I wrote it because I had direct exposure to the stories of my grandparents, of my great-uncles, who were the ones who made the trip. That’s when I said: ‘Well, I know things that aren’t in the books. I know exactly how they traveled on the boat, what they ate, what they talked about … That’s why I wrote the novel.”
But he added that that work is the only one of his 10 books that deals with that topic, while of the hundreds of articles he has written only three cover the subject of Lebanese emigration.
“We’re writers and we can write about all kinds of topics, in my case Colombian topics, not only about (the process of Lebanese) integration and immigration,” he said.
He said this is true because he and other authors of Lebanese descent don’t feel Lebanese but rather Colombian, and also because of that community’s “complete” integration into Colombia society.
According to Fayad, who has lived in Paris, Barcelona and Stockholm and now resides in Berlin, the same is not the case in Europe.
“At the moment, Arab immigrants in Europe, or (people) of other nationalities, will always write about how they’ve integrated (into the new society). They always write about that, and the difficulties they’re having, how they’ve accommodated to society. They talk about justices and injustices … They never stop having the feeling of being from (elsewhere),” he said.
Another example of that contrast is that, whereas in Colombia people of Lebanese descent have lost the language of their parents – Fayad learned Arabic as an adult and “out of curiosity” -, in Europe many immigrants do not develop a good command of “the language of the country where they’ve arrived so as to conserve the language of their parents at all times.”
“It’s true there are a lot of Lebanese characters or Lebanese or Arab themes (in works by Colombian authors), but without there being any need whatsoever to be of Lebanese descent,” Fayad added.
The archetypical “Turk,” as he is commonly known because of the Ottoman Empire passport that he carries, appears in works by Garcia Marquez, Alvaro Mutis and Ruiz Gomez and, outside Colombia, in the books of Ernesto Sabato and Isabel Allende.
“They portray them as if they were Colombian, but with other names,” Fayad said.
Emigrants from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine who – like so many other Europeans – went to the Americas at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries were known for their great vitality and left their mark on the entire hemisphere.
While their political apex in Colombia was reached with the election of President Julio Cesar Turbay in 1978, Colombian literature includes important writers of Arab descent such as Giovanni Quessep, Juan Gossain and Fayad himself. EFE


published in:  Herald Tribune – Caracas, Wednesday 25th January 2017