The chronicle is the perfect genre to tell the darker side of covid-19 pandemic in Perua country that at some point in 2021 was the worst in the world in terms of coronavirus death rate.
The journalist Joseph Zarate (Lima, 1986) not only took to the streets at a time when authorities were recommending people to stay at home, but also accompanied the funerals which were responsible for raising the bodies of those who lost their lives because of the new disease that in 2020 has turned the world upside down. Something of ours on Earth (Penguin Random House, 2021) is the book that collects the author’s experience in Lima.
Zárate received the 2016 Ortega y Gasset Prize and the 2018 Gabriel García Márquez Prize for his journalistic work, especially in the chronicle. Today, he tells us about his new book in which he uses all his experience to tell one of the most devastating professions in the world.
As the title announces, the journalist asks himself an unanswered question in the face of death spread by the virus: what do we leave behind after death?
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” he replies first with a smile. “But I have assumptions,” he warns.
The author immediately refers to his parents, because he thought of them when he saw the desolation left by the pandemic and said to himself that if he died, what would he leave them? And what his father, who now suffers from covid sequelae, left him.
“All the things he left in me. For example, the table where I write or the shelf of my books was made by my father, because he is a carpenter (and his name is José)” , he begins to argue then adds that he, who doesn’t even know how to drive a nail, is a kind of “word carpenter, and I build stories”.
Despite this, Zárate also confessed that the writing process is very difficult for him, as he feels better reporting, on the street. “To write, I already know that I will have a hard time.”
As he got older, however, he says he learned to overcome the “bitter pill” of writing. “Now I know how I work to write. I already know that in the morning I cannot work,” he admits. “I write in the afternoon, between 4 and 12 p.m..”
In any case, he consoles himself because he knows that the important thing in his work is research.
The book tells the story of a group of Venezuelan immigrants who agree to do work that Peruvians themselves prefer to avoid: touring the streets of Lima with their hearse, picking up the bodies of deceased people at home in cause of the coronavirus and take them cremated in the oven of the funeral home.
“In narrative journalism, the investigative element is fundamental. If there was no research, it would belong to a different genre of non-fiction, personal essay, etc. — explains Zárate —. Here, I am mixing chronicle with other things, but there is journalistic investigation. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do.”
As the number of people who carried out funeral work was reduced at the worst time of the pandemic, the book’s protagonists spent months working many hours a day to try to ensure that the corpses lay in bed the least. possible time.
The Peruvian journalist of course uses the traditional chronicle to tell what these people experienced, whom he accompanied in the work of evacuating the corpses. However, to try to give voice to the protagonists, Zárate explores other genres, such as theater and poetry, to give a greater dimension to the experience of the protagonists of the story.
In 2018, he published the book internal wars —in Mexico by Debolsillo—, a set of chronicles on the social, economic, political and environmental wars that different peoples waged to defend their lands or their customs against the threat of progress in Peru. internal wars It’s a book that has had a very good reception in Peru and which in a way opens the way to this new opus.
Something of ours on Earth, however, was not to see the light of day, as Zárate questioned the relevance of publishing something gloomy about the pandemic after we had all suffered in one way or another the ravages of confinement, of the disease and death. It was after falling ill with covid-19, in January 2021, that he decided to finish it for publication, guided in particular by this question mentioned above: what do we leave on Earth after our death?
“I think that’s it, the realization that there (…) where there was nothing before, where everything is chaotic, you can build something that has meaning and utility and that stays in time”, explains Zárate, trying to answer your unanswered question.
“It seems to me that to the extent that we are aware of this, we will leave something behind, whether it is the profession or a memory, that is what I believe,” he concludes.