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Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for Simpatía
Book cover for SimpatíaBook cover for Simpatía

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2024 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE

Rodrigo Blanco Calderón has established himself as one of the great voices of Latin American literature with his debut novel The Night, and his short story collection Sacrifices.

Simpatía is a suspenseful novel with unexpected twists and turns about the agony of Venezuela and the collapse of Chavismo.

Simpatía is set in the Venezuela of Nicolas Maduro amid a mass exodus of the intellectual class who have been leaving their pets behind. Ulises Kan, the protagonist and a movie buff, receives a text message from his wife, Paulina, saying she is leaving the country (and him). Ulises is not heartbroken but liberated by Paulina's departure. Two other events end up disrupting his life even further: the return of Nadine, an unrequited love from the past, and the death of his father-in-law, General Martín Ayala. Thanks to Ayala’s will, Ulises discovers that he has been entrusted with a mission—to transform Los Argonautas, the great family home, into a shelter for abandoned dogs. If he manages to do it in time, he will inherit the luxurious apartment that he had shared with Paulina.

This novel centers on themes of family and orphanhood in order to address the abuse of power by a patrilineage of political figures in Latin America, from Simón Bolívar to Hugo Chávez. The untranslatable title, Simpatía, which means both sympathy and charm, ironically references the qualities these political figures share. In a morally bankrupt society, where all human ties seem to have dissolved, Ulises is like a stray dog picking up scraps of sympathy. Can you really know who you love? What is, in essence, a family? Are abandoned dogs proof of the existence or non-existence of God? Ulises unknowingly embodies these questions, as a pilgrim of affection in a post-love era.

Book cover for Simpatía
Book cover for SimpatíaBook cover for Simpatía

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“In his latest novel, Rodrigo Blanco Calderón continues his investigation, initiated in The Night, into what literature can say about the floundering of Venezuela, this time, through the plight of stray dogs and the love they spur in various orphan characters.”

““Blanco Calderón speaks to us of ‘dogs and men,’ of their struggle for survival, of their pain...and of their hope.”

Simpatía is a new example of the lucidity that can illuminate a lost paradise. Rodrigo Blanco Calderón authors a work equally exquisite in content and form.”

“While The Night was dark, Simpatía is tremendously luminous. Even when positing paradoxes or, perhaps, precisely to do so. Ulises: dwell on that name. I read this novel in one sitting. The prose is marvellous and full of beautiful images.”

“The latest novel by the Venezuelan writer Rodrigo Blanco Calderón reestablishes him as one of the most promising contemporary Ibero-American prose writers, and consolidates him as an indisputable figure within the prolific panorama of twenty-first century fiction.”

“In the kinetic latest from Blanco Calderón, a Venezuelan man navigates political and domestic upheaval after the fall of Hugo Chavez. . . The twisty story is chock full of betrayals and intrigue as Ulises faces one hurdle after another in his quest to make good on the inheritance. This page turner has plenty of depth.”

“My favourite book in translation this month is Rodrigo Blanco Calderón’s Simpatía (Seven Stories Press, translated by Noel González Hernández and Daniel Hahn). Caracas-born Calderón has written an imaginative, riveting tale about the collapse of the progressive political ideology of Chavismo in Venezuela, mixed with the deft story of a lovelorn man who turns his family home into a shelter for abandoned dogs.”

“When a man loses his wife, who’s left him and their country behind, he gains an unlikely mission from his father-in-law. Where does love live in people who’ve been wronged? In Hollywood, if there are animals involved, you’d find a man redeemed by their love, but this story is more complex and emotionally resonant than that. As the book opens, our protagonist, Ulises Kan, a part-time teacher and film buff, doesn’t have much going for him, but his country, Venezuela, has seemingly gone off the rails. Here, Blanco Calderón revisits the ongoing political and economic crisis that he used to great effect in his debut, The Night (2022). A silver lining emerges when General Martín Ayala, Ulises’ Bolivar-worshipping father-in-law, dies suddenly, leaving a note for him. “The Apocalypse is nigh. Sadly, I won’t be here to see it. It’s your task to build the ark and put your woman and your animals there and hold for 40 days.” The general’s dying wish was to transform Los Argonautas, his beloved estate, into a home for the stray dogs plaguing the streets of Caracas. With the help of veterinarians Jesús and Mariela Galíndez, who are working through their own grief, and a corrupt lawyer named Aponte, Ulises sets about his task. Things get complicated when Ulises reconnects with an old flame, Nadine, who immediately moves in, bearing secrets. There’s a lot going on here, not least Ulises’ observations about the Christlike nature of dogs and clever insights derived from films like The Godfather. Added to the mix are a fascinating side plot about a century-old caretaker, schemes to steal Los Argonautas, unexpected deaths, and the little-known work by Australian-born novelist Elizabeth von Arnim, which Nadine discovers among the estate’s hidden treasures. An unpredictable fable that counters a nation’s hopelessness with the universal need for meaning and connection.

“The chief merit of this artful novel is the unalloyed enjoyment of a scenario that develops and diverts in unforeseen ways"... [The] writing style has a casual, free-to-roam quality.”

blog — March 11

SIMPATÍA Longlisted for the 2024 International Booker Prize!

We are extremely pleased to report that Simpatía by Rodrigo Blanco Calderón, translated by Noel Hernández González and Daniel Hahn, has been longlisted for the 2024 International Booker Prize!

Cover of Simpatia with International Booker Prize logo affixed to the front

Rodrigo Blanco Calderón has established himself as one of the great voices of Latin American literature with his debut novel The Night, and his short story collection Sacrifices. His latest book to be translated into English, Simpatía is a suspenseful novel with unexpected twists and turns about the agony of Venezuela and the collapse of Chavismo.

Simpatía is set in the Venezuela of Nicolas Maduro amid a mass exodus of the intellectual class who have been leaving their pets behind. Ulises Kan, the protagonist and a movie buff, receives a text message from his wife, Paulina, saying she is leaving the country (and him). Ulises is not heartbroken but liberated by Paulina's departure. Two other events end up disrupting his life even further: the return of Nadine, an unrequited love from the past, and the death of his father-in-law, General Martín Ayala. Thanks to Ayala’s will, Ulises discovers that he has been entrusted with a mission—to transform Los Argonautas, the great family home, into a shelter for abandoned dogs. If he manages to do it in time, he will inherit the luxurious apartment that he had shared with Paulina.

This novel centers on themes of family and orphanhood in order to address the abuse of power by a patrilineage of political figures in Latin America, from Simón Bolívar to Hugo Chávez. The untranslatable title, Simpatía, which means both sympathy and charm, ironically references the qualities these political figures share. In a morally bankrupt society, where all human ties seem to have dissolved, Ulises is like a stray dog picking up scraps of sympathy. Can you really know who you love? What is, in essence, a family? Are abandoned dogs proof of the existence or non-existence of God? Ulises unknowingly embodies these questions, as a pilgrim of affection in a post-love era.

Each year the International Booker Prize introduces readers to the best novels and short story collections from around the world that have been translated into English and published in the UK and/or Ireland.  

The prize recognises the vital work of translators with the £50,000 prize money divided equally: £25,000 for the author and £25,000 for the translator (or divided equally between multiple translators). In addition, there is a prize of £5,000 for each of the shortlisted titles: £2,500 for the author and £2,500 for the translator (or divided equally between multiple translators).  

The 13 books on the longlist have been chosen by the 2024 judging panel: broadcaster and journalist Eleanor Wachtel, as chair; award-winning poet Natalie Diaz; internationally acclaimed novelist Romesh Gunesekera;  groundbreaking visual artist William Kentridge; and writer, editor and translator Aaron Robertson.  

Their selection was made from 149 books published between 1 May 2023 and 30 April 2024 and submitted by publishers – the highest number since the prize was relaunched in its current format in 2016. 2024’s submissions were made up of books originally written in 32 languages, up from 27 in 2023. Since 2016, books representing 63 languages have been submitted for the prize, ranging from Farsi and Vietnamese to Kikuyu and Welsh.

The shortlist of six books will be announced on 9 April 2024. The winning title will be announced at a ceremony on 21 May 2024, which will be livestreamed.

Picture of Rodrigo Blanco Calderon taken by Emilio Morales

Rodrigo Blanco Calderón © Emilio Morales

Rodrigo Blanco Calderón

RODRIGO BLANCO CALDERÓN is a writer and editor. He has received various awards for his stories both inside and outside Venezuela. In 2007, he was invited to join the Bogotá39 group, which brings together the best Latin American narrators under thirty-nine years old. In 2013, he was a guest writer at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. In 2014, his story “Emuntorios” was included in Thirteen Crime Stories from Latin America, volume number forty-six of the prestigious magazine McSweeney's. With his first novel, The Night (Seven Stories Press, 2022), he won the 2016 Paris Rive Gauche Prize, the Critics Award in Venezuela, and the 2019 Mario Vargas Llosa Biennial Prize. His story “The Mad People of Paris,” included in his 2022 collection, Sacrifices(Seven Stories Press, 2022), won the O. Henry Prize and was included in The Best Short Stories 2023: The O. Henry Prize Winners, guest edited by Lauren Groff. 

Daniel Hahn is an award-winning writer, editor, and translator with about a hundred books to his name. He lives in Lewes, England.