On Literature

On Books

¡Libros! ¡Libros! He aquí una palabra mágica que equivale a decir amor, amor, y que debían los pueblos pedir como piden pan.

(Federico García Lorca)

If a book is tedious to you, don’t read it; that book was not written for you.

(Jorge Luis Borges: Profesor Borges: A Course on English Literature)

There is always room and occasion enough for a true book on any subject; as there is room for more light the brightest day and more rays will not interfere with the first.

(Henry David Thoreau: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers)

The Library is a wilderness of books.

(Henry David Thoreau: Journal, 16 March 1852)

On Homer

Clearly the story must be constructed as in tragedy, dramatically, round a single piece of action, whole and complete in itself, [20] with a beginning, middle and end, so that like a single living organism it may produce its own peculiar form of pleasure. It must not be such as we normally find in history, where what is required is an exposition not of a single piece of action but of a single period of time, showing all that within the period befell one or more persons, events that have a merely casual relation to each other.

So in this respect, too, compared with all other poets Homer may seem, as we have already said, divinely inspired, in that even with the Trojan war, which has a beginning and an end, he did not endeavour to dramatise it as a whole, since it would have been either too long to be taken in all at once or, if he had moderated the length, he would have complicated it by the variety of incident. As it is, he takes one part of the story only and uses many incidents from other parts, such as the Catalogue of Ships and other incidents with which he diversifies his poetry. The others, on the contrary, all write about a single hero or about a single period or about a single action with a great many parts…

In composing the Odyssey he did not include all the adventures of Odysseus- such as his wound on Parnassus, or his feigned madness at the mustering of the host- incidents between which there was no necessary or probable connection: but he made the Odyssey, and likewise the Iliad, to centre round an action that in our sense of the word is one.

(Aristotle: Poetics)

It was evening when made our way back to the cove. The sun was setting fire to the headlands west of us, and the sea had become absolutely still. Not even a cat’s-paw trailed across the purple water. The sea was truly like wine to look at. The professors who had decried Homer’s adjective and invented other meanings for it, had never been sailors.

(Ernle Bradford: The Wind Off the Island)

Le plus beau, le plus pur des miroirs.

(Simone Weil of The Iliad)

On Writing

Yo no escribo para matar el tiempo
ni para revivirlo
escribo para que me viva y me reviva

(Octavio Paz: El mismo tiempo)

Ulysses and his fleet, Aeneas, Empedocles, the Giant Enceladus – ah! who can paint it? I hate my pen for being so incapable.

(Frances Elliot: Diary of an Idle Woman in Sicily)

Ars est celare artem. (Art lies in hiding the art.)


Rem tene, verba sequentur. (Have the thing, words will follow.)

(Cato the Elder)

Dutertre and I sat looking out of the window. Here too was a branch swaying in the breeze. I could hear the cackle of the hens. Our Intelligence Room had been set up in a schoolhouse; the major’s office was in a farmhouse.
It would be easy to write a couple of fraudulent pages out of the contrast between this shining spring day, the ripening fruit, the chicks filling plumply out in the barnyard, the rising wheat — death at our elbow. I shall not write that couple of pages because I see no reason why the peace of a spring day should constitute a contradiction of the idea of death. Why should the sweetness of life be a matter for irony. 

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

Everything in this book may well seem both to lovers of poetry and to classical scholars an unnecessary gloss upon the Odyssey. In one sense it is, for it is clearly unnecessary to attempt to trace the voyage of Ulysses when millions of people, for thousands of years, have been quite happy to read the Odyssey as if it was only a fable… I do not think that anything is lost by attempting to find a skeleton – however magnificent the cupboard that hides it. I have seen coral formations disguising the old bones of ships, but I did not feel less amazed by the beauty of the coral just because I had found the timbers and iron frames which the polyps had disguised and decorated.

(Ernle Bradford: Introduction to Ulysses Found)

Soy un novelista no estático; es decir, mis novelas son muy documentadas y muy complejas, viajo a los lugares en que ocurren. Para mí una novela significa un año o año y medio de viajes para, digamos, localizar exteriores. Antes de La reina del Sur estuve viviendo en Sinaloa, me hice amigo de los narcos, me emborraché con ellos… 

Cuando una novela mía funciona no es por mérito narrativo del autor, es porque todo eso lo he vivido antes ya. Recurro mucho a mi memoria, a mis sensaciones, a las personas que conocí. Alatriste es un personaje de ficción, pero está basado en veinte tíos que tú y yo hemos conocido y que son así.

Yo siempre tiro del mismo personaje. Distintas situaciones, momentos distintos, circunstancias históricas y personales variables… pero en realidad el personaje siempre es el mismo. Es un tipo de hombre o mujer ante unas circunstancias exteriores que le obligan a pelear, o a veces tiene que salir afuera a un mundo hostil, o es un Jenofonte buscando el mar, pero siempre es un tipo de ser humano con una vida concreta, que es la que yo tengo.

Mis héroes no tienen fe, desde el cura de La piel del tambor al reportero de Territorio Comanche, pasando por Alatriste o el maestro de esgrima. No tienen fe, porque la vida les ha despojado de ella. Justamente ahí está el drama: ¿qué haces una vez te quitan la bandera, la ideología, a Dios, cuando dejas de ser Héctor y Aquiles y pasas a ser Ulises, cómo sobrevives entonces?

El héroe inocente puede ser cualquier imbécil. Ser Héctor o Aquiles está chupado: te matan, sí, pero mueres por la patria, por Dios, vas al cielo, te ponen un monumento en tu pueblo… El otro es el que las pasa mal. El héroe que no tiene a nadie mirándolo, el que tiene remordimientos, que mató y violó en Troya y degolló a niños, y que además está atormentado porque sabe que su mujer le está poniendo los cuernos, y pierde a sus compañeros… Es un tío al final que no tiene más que sus redaños y su espada, y ahí hay una épica que sí me interesa mucho, de ahí salen mis novelas. No es un heroísmo normal, es un heroísmo retorcido: no lo haces por la patria; lo haces por una mujer, por echar un polvo, por ser rico, por venganza… Por pasiones sólidas, oscuras y sangrientas, pero no por una gilipollez como la patria o Dios. Esos son mis héroes, y por eso el lector que me lee y al que le gustan mis libros sabe, reconoce y le gusta moverse en ese territorio, porque se siente cerca de ese tipo de heroísmo.

(Arturo Pérez-Reverte: «Somos lo que queremos ser, cada uno
tiene el mundo que se merece», Jot Down, December 2015)