24 of 196 Countries
Project 196 is my attempt to read and post on a short story from all 196 countries of the world. Right now I am in South America and hope, maybe in vain, to post on all 12 countries before I leave. I was just in Guyana and I had hoped my next stop would be in its neighbor Suriname. In a fairly long Google search I could not find a story from an author from Suriname online. The native language of Suriname is Dutch, the population is only 500,000 and poverty limits internet access so this maybe a country I will come back to latter.
Today I took the 3.5 hours flight from Georgetown, Guyana to La Paz Bolivia. In the world's highest
elevation major city I am a bit short of air but I decline the local remedy of Coco leaves. In my journey I am learning, or trying to, a bit about the literary culture of each country I stop in. Some are very much under the domination culturally of bigger countries or old colonial masters. Through reading the introduction to The Fat Man from La Paz-Contemporary Fiction from Bolivia edited by Rosario Santos (where I read this story) I was able to gain a basic knowledge of the short story in Bolivian literary culture. I was happy to see the form is very much loved and appreciated there. Many of the writers are influenced by Magic Realism and the lived experiences of the often in poverty Bolivian Indians and the challenges of big city life.
The most read worldwide Bolivian short story is "The Well" by Augustus Cespedes. The story in fact is a very powerful work about the cruelties and hardships in the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia fought between 1932 and 1935. It was a war over territory and Bolivia lost. In Bolivia most of the soldiers were indigenous men forced into service who felt almost no sense of national identity and no quarrel with Paraguay. If you read the history of the war (as you can here) it seems like the very epitome of a war where the rich of both countries sent their native population to fight in a battle that meant nothing to them. The territory fought over is harsh very arid land with little water. The soldiers on both sides were very ill-prepared for this and many died from sheer lack of water. The story is told as if it were the diary of a field sergeant in the midst of the dessert. His men have no water so they begin digging a well. Conditions are terrible. There is no sense of patriotism at all in the minds of anyone in the story. They dig deeper and deeper but still no water. Cespedes is brilliant at depicting the consequences of spending long hours in a futile dig in a deep hole on the soldiers. The absurdity of the story is a direct reflection of the absurdity of the war.
I know few will read this story. It is not online and still under copyright but it really should be on a list of world best 1000 short stories, at least. If you focus on war short stories, then then this is must reading for you.
Augustus Cespedes (1904 to 1997, La Paz, Bolivia) had a very influential and interesting life. In 1927 he founded The Revolutionary Nationalist Party, one of the countries most important political parties. He worked as a journalist during the Chaco wars. He founded the major newspaper of the country. He was a highly regarded deputy in the parliament of the country, ambassador to Paraguay and UNESCO. He also wrote a number of novels, short stories and polemical works.
I think I will next stop in Paraquay to see things from the other side in the Chaco War.