The day began in style with a tour de force from Jon Snow, in the beautiful courtyard of the Claustro de Santo Domingo. Dappled sunlight fell on the 300-strong crowd, 3/4 Colombian, 1/4 Anglophone. Snow spoke fluently, amusingly and with conviction on the theme of ´living with the gringos´, recounting his first-hand experiences as a journalist during and after the humanitarian crisis of the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s (where America was held to be a saviour, the beneficent helping hand); the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath (with America the surly and uncommunicative); the horrors of conflict in Central America in the 1980s (with America the reactionary and paranoid); and then the tragedy of the Iraq war, and the “war on terror” (with America at its most belligerent).
All of this — via an irreverent account of the politics of the last two papal elections, at which Snow was also present (much enjoyed by the crowd: and, deliciously, delivered to the sound of the singing of mass wafting over from the church next door) — served as a prelude to Snow’s heartfelt account of Obama’s success. Fresh from the inauguration, and inspired by readings of Dreams from my Father and Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Snow waxed lyrical about the prospects of an Obama administration — as much for Colombia and Latin America, as for the rest of the world. It was gripping stuff; delivered with panache; and much enjoyed by the (partisan) crowd. A wider account of Snow’s experiences and reflections here can be find at his blog.
A few hours later, after a talk by the American author Isabel Fonseca about her non-fiction work on gypsies and her recently-published first novel, Attachment, a full house gathered in Teatro Heredia to listen to the Dominican Republican Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist Junot Diaz in conversation with Eduardo Lago, literary critic, academic and director of the Cervantes Institute in New York. This was the stuff of which literary festivals are made: a visceral, exciting conversation (about life, work, fiction, culture, identity and politics), between two brilliant minds, fuelled by a sympathetic audience which posed excellent questions. Diaz is a captivating figure, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — his first novel — wholly sui generis; Lago, an earthy, fast-speaking…