Juan de Recacoechea is the author of eight novels. He was born in La Paz, Bolivia, and worked as a journalist in Europe for almost twenty years. After returning to his native country, he helped found Bolivia's first state-run television network and dedicated himself to fiction writing. His novel American Visa won Bolivia's National Book Prize, was adapted into an award-winning film, and was translated into English and published by Akashic Books (New York) to great critical acclaim. He currently lives in La Paz and has been a featured speaker at cultural institutions and universities around the U.S. Websites:
Amherst Reads exclusive: Q & A with Juan de Recacoechea
What was your impetus for writing Andean Express?
Did the female protagonist actually exist?
I had seen her once before, in Buenos Aires. I fell in love with her at first sight.
Wasn’t Bolivian Railway [the British company which owned and operated the train depicted in the novel] nationalized?
Yes, and later the La Paz-Arica line stopped running. The state is not a good administrator in Bolivia.
Has the ocean always inspired you as a novelist?
Yes, more than anything else.
After visiting the coast, do you get an urge to write?
The ocean turns my thoughts into a jumble, it hypnotizes me and, yes, it makes me want to write.
Have you heard from Gulietta?
No. I haven’t seen her since.
Do you remember her?
Exactly as I saw her on the train sixty years ago.
Is it a true story?
I added a touch of pure fiction.
Did you ever travel the route of the Andean Express again?
Yes, but on a bus, which isn’t the same.
Has the Port of Arica lost its magic for you?
Some of the old streets and thoroughfares have been preserved. It hasn’t changed much.
Is the Hotel Pacífico still standing?
It collapsed during an earthquake.
Was Gulietta your first love?
You could say that.
You’ve done a lot of traveling. Have you met any other girls like her?
A few, but she was the one who traumatized me the most.
Did the crime actually happen?
No. I imagined it.
Was it necessary?
Given the logic of the story, it was my only choice.
Does the train still exist?
In Arica, some of the cars and the locomotive have been preserved. The rest of the train was converted into a museum.
Are you happy with the translation?
It couldn’t be better.
Can you live without writing?
When you can’t write anymore, what will you do?
Write in my imagination.
What is the title of your latest novel?
Abeja Reina (Queen Bee).