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The Flight of the Condor

Stories of Violence and War from Colombia

Translated and compiled by Jennifer Gabrielle Edwards; Foreword by Hugo Chaparro

Publication Year: 2007

After decades of violence of all kinds, what remains are the stories. History is revised and debated, its protagonists bear witness, its writers ensure that all the suffering has not been in vain. These stories from Colombia contain pain and love, and sometimes even humor, allowing us to see an utterly vibrant and pulsating country amidst so much death and loss. We encounter townspeople overcome by fear, a man begging unsuccessfully for his life, an execution delayed for Christmas, the sounds and smells of burning coffee plantations, and other glimpses of daily life.  
    This anthology reflects some of Colombia’s finest literary talent, and most of these stories appear here for the first time in English translation. They reveal the contradictions and complexities of the human condition, yet they also offer hope for the future. In their bold revelations of the depths of despair, these writers provide gripping portrayals of humanity’s tenacious resistance to those very depths.
Best Books for Regional General Audiences, selected by the American Association of School Librarians, and Outstanding Book, selected by the Public Library Association

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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Once upon a Time: A Short Story on Violence

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pp. xiii-xxiv

We were predestined: when the coat of arms of the Republic of Colombia was approved in 1834, the symbols that represent the richness of the country were dwarfed by a vulture. With its outspread wings, a laurel wreath in its beak, and a ribbon on which was written “liberty and order,” the condor that appears in the upper part of the ...

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pp. xxv-xxviii

Special thanks to Juan Fernando Merino for his unflagging support, patient editing of the translation, and scouring of used bookstalls in Bogotá; thanks also to the rest of the Merino family in Cali, especially Doña Fabiola, Mapy, Fernando, Lucho, and “El Capitán” for instilling in me a passion for Colombia that ultimately translated ...

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Lather and Nothing Else

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pp. 3-7

He didn’t greet anyone when he came in. I was sharpening my best razor. And when I saw him I began to tremble. But he didn’t notice. I continued to sharpen the razor to hide my alarm. Then I tested it against the tip of my thumb and held it up to the light again. He was removing his bandolier, with its holster dangling. He hung it on ...

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The Execution

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pp. 8-9

The guerillas had been fleeing through the jungle for days. There were fifteen left of the original twenty involved in the ambush. They were exhausted and they knew that they still had a week of arduous walking ahead of them. They camped on a riverbank at sunset. That night they confronted their situation: the nine captured soldiers ...

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The Soldiers

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pp. 10-28

In this story, Álvaro Cepeda Samudio, one of the most brilliant and innovative writers Colombian literature has ever produced, tackles one of the most tragic and documented events in Colombia’s political history: the so-called banana plantation massacre, when army troops put a bloody end to the strike of the United Fruit Company workers. ...

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My Father Was Blue

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pp. 29-30

In Colombia, the color red has traditionally been associated with liberals and the Colombian Liberal Party, which in political jargon is—or was—progressive, freethinking, and left of center. Associated with those right of center, blue has been the color of the conservatives and the Conservative Party of Colombia, of the status quo, of centralized regimes in-...

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The Day We Buried Our Weapons

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pp. 31-37

In the so-called period of violence in Colombia (roughly speaking, an undeclared civil war between Liberals and Conservatives and those acting at their behest), which lasted for close to thirty years, the intensity of the armed conflict and the frequency and ferocity of the battles, ambushes, and murders—or summary death sentences, from the opposing...

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pp. 38-42

On April 9, 1948, on a street in downtown Bogot

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A Christmas Story

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p. 43-43

It’s a couple minutes to midnight. The place looks like an abandoned warehouse, a defunct factory, or an old railway station, as the characteristic sound of a freight train can be heard in the distance. A man is tied to a chair. His face is distorted by panic: his skin is yellow, his eyes are bloodshot, a few-days-old beard covers his cheeks ,...

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The New Order

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pp. 44-54

A “New Order,” you say? Whether as a result of rigged elections, infighting in the majority party, or a military uprising that has toppled the presidency—as seems to be the case in Arturo Echeverri Mejía’s story—the head of state or political party that has taken over attempts to impose its directives, “supplanting, converting, or annihilating its enemies.”...

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Family Birthday Wishes

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pp. 55-58

“Hello?” ... “Leonardo? It’s Berta. I’ve been trying to call you all morning.” ... “I went grocery shopping. How are you?” ... “Did you think I had forgotten?” ... “About what?” ...“About your birthday, silly. I sent you a little gift yesterday.” ... “Oh, yeah. Those lovely little guns. It’s exactly what I wanted.Thank you. I tried one out this morning.” ...“You’re welcome. And, by the way, happy birthday.” ...

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pp. 59-67

“They should be here soon,” the old man says, drying off his brown face with a dirty towel. “Hopefully they’ll be less brutal.” His voice becomes a plea, lost now in the damp folds of the towel. Outside his café, boots march to the beat of Sergeant Mataya’s piercing voice: “Haaaalt!” he shouts, and the pavement is burned ...

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The Designator

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pp. 68-70

I crept up behind him and firmly touched his shoulder. Pallid, he slowly turned around only to find my smiling face. “Oh, it’s you!” he said, and he tried to laugh but only managed to produce a ridiculous grimace. I took him by the arm and we walked under the harshness of the mid-afternoon sun. I was going to say, “It’s hot, isn’t it?”...

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pp. 71-91

Today I go to the office at six in the evening. The secretary says that Carepasa wants to see me. I go up to his office. He tells me to sit down. My feet hurt. I have blisters on one of them. Without looking at me he asks for the invoices, without looking at me he looks at them one by one and he takes notes in an account book. ...

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The Procession of Shadows

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pp. 92-94

The sun had already set when, from amidst the uncertain darkness of the night, Jos

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The Aroma of Death

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pp. 95-106

“Arcesio’s house smells like a corpse,” says Officer Mendoza upon his return to Cascajal at daybreak. It’s the end of his beat. He has surveyed the outskirts of town and crossed the plaza to the snack-food stand on the corner. Inside the aluminum stand, the woman seems to recognize the voice but doesn’t bother to turn around and look; she finishes re-...

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Bitter Sorrows

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pp. 107-119

The girl appeared to be afraid. She hesitated for a moment—not sure, it seemed, which way to go. But then she reached down, picked up the small suitcase by her side, and crossed the street. The truck was still there. From the back of the truck a man handed bundles down to another man on the street; both of them smiled at her and ...

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pp. 120-127

Eme got drunk too fast. She seldom drank so she didn’t know how to calculate exactly how much tolerance she had. She had an explosive character and acted as if she always had an excess of accumulated energy. Nonetheless, she was happier than ever that night, and didn’t care if she ended up with a terrible hangover the next day. Be-...

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The Feast

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pp. 128-135

I wanted to watch the people play pool. Since it was so hot that afternoon, I ordered a glass of ice-cold lemonade and sat down in a corner. Of course, sometimes I had to get up when the onlookers went up to the pool table for the tough shots and blocked my view. I’d crane my neck above them and it was funny ending up right in ...

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Vendors of Peculiar Objects

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pp. 136-141

City dweller Pascual Colonia Nemesio tried to sell his little finger on Tenth Avenue. “When you’re a street peddler, you have to get up very early to get a space on the sidewalk,” he told the journalists who interviewed him at the downtown police station, where he was being held for disturbing the peace. ...

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Brides by Night

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pp. 142-144

Right now, for example, some men come to the store, all dressed in gray overalls, and select us from among at least a hundred mannequins. We’re both the same height, bald and white, and our cheeks are pink, our eyes blue, and our nails are painted. They put us in a van and after a tumultuous ride we arrive at a ladies’ clothing and ...

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The Sixth Commandment

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pp. 145-150

I got to know pain and the automobile all in one day. That is, the inside of an automobile and a pain I felt all over. And it’s a good thing Aunt Guillermina hasn’t found out. Because she’s warned me lots of times. Every morning, while I gather my books and my pencils, she says, “Girl, stay away from men because they’re all alike. All ...


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pp. 151-156

E-ISBN-13: 9780299223632
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299223649

Publication Year: 2007