“There is something in childhood that marks us for a lifetime,” said A.D. White Professor-at-Large Laura Restrepo in a lecture yesterday in Goldwin Smith’s Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium. The lecture was the first in a series of appearances she will be making from now until March 7.
Restrepo, a Colombian novelist, journalist and political activist, is known throughout the world for her books, including her most recent work, Delirium, which won her the 2004 Alfaguara prize for authors of Spanish literature.
The talk, entitled “Authors In Search of the Child They Were: On Memory and Origin,” approached the topic of childhood through a review of a variety of texts from European, Latin American and African literature.
She dissected the idea of childhood in literature and said, “childhood is a cultural invention rather than a natural phenomenon.”
Restrepo showed that in every text, the loss of innocence or the “fall from grace” is central to the representation of the young protagonists. The appearance of the uncorrupted child was elusive in her findings. Rather, moments where the child becomes an adult left much greater marks on the texts she explored. For example, she mentioned the moment the small boy discovers his father’s deviances or the day in which young Tolstoy finds he can no longer play make-believe.
[img_assist|nid=28264|title=Innocence Abroad|desc=A.D. White Professor-at-Large Laura Restrepo speaks in Hollis E. Cornell auditorium yesterday. Her lecture, the first in a series that will continue through March, focused on childhood as portrayed through a variety of texts.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Restrepo’s background influenced the lecture. She is an award-winning novelist from Colombia whose fiction is largely woven around her country’s long war. Her many novels address the of political violence, displacement and drug trafficking unique to Colombia, along with more universal themes like love and loss.
Restrepo commented on the distinctive way in which fellow Colombian writers like Gabriel García Marquéz treat time and memory in their novels.
“The war is so intense,” she explained, “that you have to fit everything into the first sentence because something might happen afterwards.”
Juan Clar ’11 was drawn to the lecture because of Restrepo’s many literary accolades. Educated in Puerto Rico, Clar was excited by the chance to see a recipient of the Alfaguara prize.
Prof. Elvira Sánchez-Blake, romance studies, said that Restrepo’s visit to Cornell represents many important things “like the fact that we are paying attention to Latin America, because many of the Professors-at-Large who are recognized by Cornell are European or North American.”
Sanchéz-Blake added that Restrepo has so much to offer “because she is a writer, but she is also an activist, a politician and a journalist.”
Veronica Chavez ’09 was interested in Restrepo’s visit because of her unique role in Latin American society.
“Her identity as a Latin American writer and her political activism are a very rare combination and that’s why I wanted to come see her” she said.
Chavez was intrigued by the topic of the lecture. “I think what she is talking about are questions we all ask ourselves. Who are we? What is our essence? What is our destiny? And how is it shaped from the beginning?” she said. “It is fascinating because there is no one real answer.”
Restrepo commented that the representation of childhood in literature is “very interesting for me because I really do want to write about childhood. This is a way for me to look at what other authors have done and what are the ways that it can be done.”
Restrepo hinted at her preferred method of addressing childhood in literature during the lecture. She commented that Gabriel García Marquéz writes in a public way about his youth which hinders his memoirs, and that authors who write about their past for more personal reasons are more captivating.
Throughout the lecture, Restrepo emphasized the central role of words as the means that authors use to recreate or create their childhoods.
“There is not much difference between biography and fiction,” she explained. This is, she claimed, because there is no way to use words to truly express reality.