22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Juan Pablo Villalobos

Portrait Juan Pablo Villalobos
© Ana Schulz

Juan Pablo Villalobos was born in the Mexican city of Guadalajara in 1973. He studied Hispanic literature and marketing before moved to Barcelona in 2003 to undertake a doctorate in literary theory. There he pursued writing while also working in an e-commerce company. Villalobos published numerous works – including market research studies, travel reportage, literary and film criticism as well as essays on diverse topics, from the ergonomics of toilets to the influence of the avant-garde on the work of César Aira – before devoting himself to fiction.His first book, the short novel »Fiesta en la madriguera«, was published in 2010 (En. »Down the Rabbit Hole«, 2011). It features young Tochtli who lives in a palace with his father Yolcaut, head of the »Narcos« (drug dealers) and leader of the »best and most macho gang for at least eight kilometres«. His every whim is fulfilled; it is only when he wishes for a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus that problems arise. With his subtle humour Villalobos grants the boy a means of expression and point of view which lead to moments of high comedy, when the brutal world of the drug wars intrudes on Tochtli’s life where it takes a turn for the absurd, an effect valued by the author: »As a storyteller I try to approach every topic, not just the drug trade, from a hyper-logical perspective, which then leads to something absurd.« In the second part of a planned trilogy about his Mexico, the novel »Si viviéramos en un lugar normal« (2012; En. »Quesadillas«, 2013), the 13-year-old Orestes, his parents and seven siblings – all named for figures in ancient mythology – live in a small village. The history of Mexico parades past the door of their home, »a shoe box with a lid made from a sheet of asbestos«: the opposition PDM’s protests against the ruling PRI, electoral fraud, corruption, building speculation, colonisation, the stream of pilgrims on their way to the Virgin of San Juan, nouveau riche neighbours with unusual careers. When Orestes goes in search of his missing twin siblings he is confronted with all of this while gaining a more acute awareness of the world behind that front door: poverty, class consciousness, pride and his father’s expletives. »Mexico isn’t surreal, it isn’t magic, it’s cruel and awful«, says Villalobos. And in a brilliant showdown all the protagonists come together in what is not so much a Greek tragedy as a Mexican tale.Villalobos’ novels have been translated into numerous languages and received awards throughout the world (including the shortlist of the Guardian First Book Award 2011). Villalobos also publishes translations from Brazilian Portuguese and writes for journals such as »Letras Libres«, »Granta« and »Gatopardo«, daily newspapers »O Estado de S. Paulo« and »Folha de S. Paulo« as well as a monthly column for the »Companhia das Letras« blog. After living for three years in Brazil, he is back in Barcelona.