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Laura Restrepo: 1950—: Journalist, Political Activist, Novelist

Emerged As A Writer

Restrepo began to write at age nine, when she wrote a story about poor peasants. This convinced her father that she would become a novelist. In many ways, this first story essentially predicted the themes of her subsequent work, the tragedy of poverty or the disenfranchising of the oppressed. In spite of this early beginning, it took 25 years before Restrepo began to write seriously. In her interview with BOMB, Restrepo says that "the way I look at it now, it was my father's death that prompted me. I believe that since then, I write in good measure out of love for him, in his memory, and to feel him not far away." When she began to write novels, Restrepo had difficulty in deciding if her work was non-fiction or fiction. She used real events and people as an inspiration for her work because she wanted to tell the stories of real people within a fictional narrative. Eventually Restrepo's search for her own particular style of writing, led to a blend of reality and fiction that makes her work so captivating. She uses her research as a journalist as the basis for her fictional works, but she blends that journalism with literary creativity.

Restrepo's first novel, La isla de la pasión,isablendof history, journalism, and fiction. The story is written while Restrepo was an outcast living in Mexico. She missed Colombia very badly, but eventually realized that she needed to quit wasting the beauty of Mexico in lamentations for Colombia. Instead, she sought a story to write. The result is the story of a young military officer and his family, who because of the revolution, must flee and live their lives on an island in the Pacific. When she was challenged by her publisher to choose either history or fiction as a genre for her book, she added the following note at the beginning of the book: "The historical facts, places, names, dates, documents, statements, characters, living and dead persons appearing in this story are real. So are the minor details, sometimes." In this way, Restrepo managed to circumvent her publisher's decree and make her first novel what she wanted it to be—a story about real people and events that lends itself to her own style of creativity.

Restrepo's second novel, El leopardo al sol, tells the story of a deadly feud between two families, who are involved in the Colombian drug cartel. Initially, this novel had its beginning as a series of reports that Restrepo did while working as a television news reporter. She had been sent to investigate why two families had started killing each other. Later, she converted her reports into a long magazine article. Finally, she was asked to transform her reports once again, into scripts for a miniseries, which she did. The miniseries never aired because the television studio received a visit from a lawyer. Restrepo related this incident in an interview with Helen Elliott of The Weekend Australian. Restrepo told Elliott that the lawyer "mentioned blowing up the building." As a result, the miniseries was cancelled. Finally, according to Restrepo, she again "talked with the lawyer and said I wanted to write a book about it he was relaxed. 'Write what you want—they don't care about book, they don't read books.'" Restrepo had spent a total of 11 years investigating the deaths of those who oppose drug trafficking in Colombia, but in the end, she published El leopardo al sol as a novel. Restrepo told Manrique that she never used the word "drugs" in the novel, because she is convinced that "all readers read between the lines." She had no further encounters with either the lawyer who had visited her or the people who sent him.

Restrepo's next novel was very different in both tone and subject. Dulce compañía is the story of a modern archangel in the slums of Bogotá. It seems a strange subject for Restrepo, who had no formal religious training as a child. However, having no formal religious training does not mean that Restrepo was not exposed to religion. Her paternal grandmother was very religious. In her interview with Manrique, Restrepo related that her grandmother would make her pray a "thou-sand Jesuses" with her. In the comedy, Dulce compañía, the protagonist is a reporter who is investigating the appearance of an angel in a Bogotá barrio. Eventually the reporter falls in love with the angel and has a child with him. Restrepo tells Manrique that she was "toying with the idea of breaking the traditional separation between human and divine, between author and character." Dulce compañía won several awards, including Mexico's Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Prize and the Prix France Culture Award.

In her most recent novel, Restrepo wanted to make the protagonist a literary figure in the manner of the detective in the noir genre. In La novia oscura, she created a narrator, who is a journalist. While doing research in the Colombian city of Barrancabermeja, Restrepo saw a picture of a raven-haired woman biting a flower stem. The picture so captivated her imagination that she wanted to write a story to go with the picture. The result is La novia oscura, the story of Sayonara, a child prostitute. To research her most recent book, Restrepo interviewed the people one might expect her to interview, such as engineers and executives. But she also interviewed guerrilla chiefs and gasoline smugglers and prostitutes. As she has with her previous two novels, there is a part of Restrepo portrayed in the story, as the narrator, who is a journalist, conducting research into a mysterious woman's life. Thus the novel incorporated the real author, who did conduct this research, and integrates the factual past with a creative present. The technique of investigating a life, based on a photo, makes the book especially intriguing and popular with readers. In October of 2002, book sellers, Barnes & Noble, selected both the Spanish and English editions of La novia oscura for inclusion in its "Discover Great New Writers" program. Restrepo's novel is the first Spanish language title to be included in this program, which provides a prominent display in each store for the books that are chosen for inclusion.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyLaura Restrepo: 1950—: Journalist, Political Activist, Novelist Biography - Raised On Unconventional Education, Acquired A Different Social Awareness, Emerged As A Writer, Saw Writing As Historical Record