May 26, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Juan Gómez Bárcena's novel The Sky Over Lima is an engaging debut that deftly explores themes of class, friendship, and creativity.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Bárcena grounds the literary games in a richly detailed, early 20th-century Lima and its cast of secondary characters: dock workers, prostitutes, café-haunting literati. Its lightly ironic tone darkening as it proceeds, the novel sensitively explores how a literary prank shapes the sentimental, romantic, and moral education of Carlos."
The Sky Over Lima is set in the Peru of 1904. Nevertheless, its narrator transcends continents and centuries. Let's imagine this narrator puts together a soundtrack: someone capable of living in 1904 and 2014 at the same time, someone able to take Leonard Cohen back to the beginning of the 20th century and bring Víctor Jara's verses to life once more, allowing them to cry out against injustices perpetrated thirty years before the singer was even born. This would be that soundtrack.
"Vertigo (Love scene)" – Bernard Herrmann
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is not only my favourite movie, but was also a constant source of inspiration while I was writing "The Sky over Lima". A man in love with a dream, a made up woman, a sick romantic idealization… The film touches upon many of the subjects of my novel. A journalist once asked Hitchcock what his film was about. His answer: "It is about a man who wants to make love to a ghost." I think that same definition would also be a good synopsis for The Sky Over Lima.
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard – Paul Simon
Carlos Rodríguez and José Gálvez are two Peruvian friends, just boys who want to become poets. And, as in Paul Simon's song, at some point they decide to "break the rules:" they write to their favorite poet, the Spanish maestro Juan Ramón Jiménez, impersonating a gorgeous young lady, hoping he will make her his muse.
Sweet Georgina Brown – Django Reinhart
The girl could have been called "Georgia Brown," but they decided to give her a more exotic name: Georgina Hübner. And the two friends had a great time doing it, in keeping with this cheerful rendition by Django Reinhart, because creating a literary character is a fun thing to do…
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
…that is, when things don't get twisted and the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez falls in love with your character from the other edge of the world. And the poet of course wants Georgina to be in Spain with him, to hold her in his arms. Something of a problem, considering Georgina has no body to hold and only exists in a handful of letters, scribbled with wit and an almost childish cruelty.
No he desitjat mai cos com el teu - Marcel Bagés i Maria Arnal Dimas
"I have never desired a body like yours" say the verses by the poet Estellès sung by María Arnal, and there is no doubt Juan Ramón Jiménez could say much the same thing. That being said, his life would have been way easier if he had listened to the last verse of the song: "To hell with all verses!"
Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen
This is a novel full of letters the characters sent incessantly to each other. I would have liked them to be as beautiful as this one that L. Cohen wrote for us all, and that I listened to obsessively while I was writing the novel.
Everybody Knows – Leonard Cohen
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, that is, that Georgina isn't but a joke. Everybody except Juan Ramón, of course, who, letter by letter, will start planning how to meet his adored Georgina.
Playground Love – Air
But love in The Sky Over Lima isn't only of the platonic, idealized kind; physical love also plays an important role. For instance, prostitutes sashay through many of its pages. One of them is only a girl whose virginity is sold for an exorbitant price to the rubber tycoons in Peru. She is be the playground love of Carlos Rodríguez, himself barely more than a boy at the time.
Vientos del pueblo – Víctor Jara
Meanwhile, while Carlos and José play writing letters, Lima workers fight in vane for better working conditions and basic social rights. Some decades will have to pass before their demands are met. For the moment, the government prefers to shut up the people with gunpowder and blood, as Víctor Jara sings: "Again, they want to soil, my land with workers' blood/those who speak about freedom/ and have black hands."
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her – Simon and Garfunkel
Simon and Garfunkel are persuaded that it is possible to fall in love with a dream, conceive a woman in fantasy and give in to her, just as Pigmalion did with his sculpture. This same thing will happen to Carlos Gálvez when he begins falling in love with his own character.
Gloomy Sunday – Billie Holliday
It's obvious that none of this will end well for anybody. Not for Juan Ramón, who falls in love head over feet for Georgina, nor for the boys, who aren't aware of how seriously their joke has been taken. Choosing "Gloomy Sunday" for the dénouement might be going a bit too far, as some have called this the saddest song ever; in The Sky Over Lima humor prevails always, even in the darkest passages. But my characters often enjoy drama, and who am I to contradict them?
Bookends – Simon and Garfunkel
Everything has an end, comforting or horrible, happy or sad, but an end at last. Carlos and José also have an ending, which comes many years later: a watchtower where they can reflect on the time gone by, about all that they've lost in the passing years.
Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you.
Juan Gómez Bárcena and The Sky Over Lima links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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