In Jesús Carrasco’s stunning debut novel Out in the Open, he tells the story of a young boy fleeing his home, pursued by dangerous forces, on a journey through a drought-stricken country ruled by violence. What lies before him is an infinite, arid plain, and on the road, he meets an old goatherd, a man who lives simply but righteously. From that moment on, their paths intertwine. Carrasco masterfully creates a high-stakes world and a dystopian tale of life and death, right and wrong, terror and salvation.
Recently, we spoke with Jesús about the literary classic that’s shaped him from his teenage years on, the mystically-tinged poetry that inspires him, and a heartening first memory of his father reading in their quiet country village.
What’s the book on your bedside table?
I’m reading different books, but one I always go back to is Don Quixote. It’s a great novel, and I’m now re-reading the second part. It’s a book that can be with you for your whole life. I read it when I was maybe 20, and I didn’t understand anything, but I enjoyed it. I’ve been reading that book my whole life, always finding out new things, all the beauty and things Cervantes tells me about myself, my society, my country. I’ve been reading Juan Miguel Vasquez, who I love; he’s an amazing author.
Name three characters from literature or authors (dead or alive) that you’d want in your ideal book club?
One of them is Cervantes. Probably the first, because when you’re reading Cervantes, it’s not just Don Quixote. The life of Cervantes was really complex and tough in some ways. Raymond Carver—he influenced me when I was starting to read in a professional way and starting to write. I wrote some personal stuff, diaries, and I was finding some kind of special text called literature. So, I’d meet Raymond Carver and say, “Thank you, Mr. Carver, for all you did for me and my beginnings.” Another would be Natalia Ginzburg. She’s so sensitive; she writes in a very honest and beautiful way, and I always feel touched when I read her, in a good way.
What word do you love and why? What word do you hate and why?
One in Spanish that I love is balandro, it’s a kind of sailing vessel, very stylized, maybe 18th or 19th century. I love the sound of the word and the meaning. Balandro is a boat that slides over water and drags you to amazing places, beautiful places. It’s a trip on the water, and it’s a promise for something ahead to discover. I usually hate common words, clichés. There are many in literature, regarding the sky and the clouds, or the way we look at the sea. I spend a lot of time diluting, throwing away. I try to put, in the right way, each word that I use. I want to be responsible for every word in the book, for someone to ask me, “Why do you choose this word?” I want to have the answer because I try to be careful with the language.
What’s the one book you love to give as a gift and to whom do you give it?
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. In Spanish, it’s Alabanza de la Sombra. Tanizaki is a Japanese writer from the mid-20th century, and this very tiny book is about how Japan changed when electricity came to the country. Using this motif, he developed a very beautiful theory, like poetry, about light, sensitivity, sense, colors, and textures of material. It’s directly linked with the soul, the feelings of it. I think everyone can find something beautiful in that book.
What’s the one book you read as a kid that has stuck with you?
Treasure Island. I read it when I was maybe 14 or 15, and I felt the sensation of being transported to another world, the night in the summer, the sea and the beach, pirates, treasure, and all these amazing, heightened things that encourage children to have their own adventures. It’s similar to Don Quixote; I always find something beautiful. I always feel welcomed by the book. I grew up in a very small village, and I felt the freedom as a child. When I read Treasure Island, I’m going back to my childhood and enjoying the book as a novel reader.
What’s the one book that never fails to delight or inspire you?
El Cántico Espiritual by San Juan de la Cruz. It reminds me of my father—that’s a very strong reason for me to be close to a book—but it’s an amazing piece of poetry. So deep and beautiful, mystic poetry that he related to love for God. But so erotic, because he related it to the love of a man for a woman, and the love of a man for God. He was the favorite of my father. My father was my first example of a reader; I remember him reading in the afternoons in our quiet village. He was the only one who read at home. It was a picture of a reader at work: my father reading a novel, comfortable, sitting, just enjoying, immersed in a book.
Is there a book you tell people you’ve read but you actually haven’t?
No, I don’t use that. I’ve read Ulysses, for example. Everybody around me spoke about that amazing book, and it was really tough for me to read because it’s so difficult, so challenging. But I wanted to at least say, “We can talk about Ulysses, really! Which page? You can pick out one, and we can talk about it.” But it was challenging. As I’m getting older, I’m realizing the best way I can spend my time is by reading the book I want to read.
There’s a tradition in Iceland where everyone gives their family member a book on Christmas Eve, and then they spend Christmas reading a book. Who in your family would you give a book to, and what book would it be?
My sister. We’re six siblings, and my younger sister is a good reader, and I used to give her presents, always books. For example, The Hare with Amber Eyes. The author, Edmund de Waal was not a writer, he was a pottery craftsman, and my sister is a craftswoman. It’s a really good book for her because it talks about working with the hands, and the sensation of building and making with your hands. At the same time, this book is very beautiful, about very small pieces of art called “netsuke” in Japanese, these pieces of pottery. The process is so clear and simple, no effects, just beautiful words printed on the page.