ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Karina Sainz Borgo has spent her life writing as a journalist about her birth country of Venezuela. Now she's approaching it as a novelist. Sainz Borgo moved to Spain in 2006 and watched from an ocean away as Venezuela descended into political and economic chaos. That disintegration is at the heart of her debut novel "It Would Be Night In Caracas." The book weaves together imagined scenes and characters with real-life experiences, like this from the last time she was in Caracas six years ago.
KARINA SAINZ BORGO: People does not go out from their houses not because - only because of the political violence. Also by criminal violence, which is very, very, very huge problem in Venezuela. It's like living on a graveyard, and that - when I saw that, I felt so, so sad because imagine I went to a bookstore and there was no even a single book in the store.
SHAPIRO: I asked Karina Sainz Borgo what fiction allows her to do that journalism does not.
SAINZ BORGO: When we do nonfiction, we try to take care of the truth, what truth means, because I think that journalism and nonfiction provide us answer. But I think fiction provide us question. They make us think about things we think we understand.
SHAPIRO: I love that description - that journalism might provide answers, but fiction provides questions.
SAINZ BORGO: Yeah, it's - I think I really believe in that.
SHAPIRO: The book jumps back and forth in time between Venezuela's prosperous past, which was not very long ago, and the increasingly bleak present. Why did you want to include those flashback scenes?
SAINZ BORGO: Because they allowed me to explain the reader in which way a modern country disappeared in a very short period of time. Twenty years is not that much. But it also allowed me to tell the reader that this was a society with so strong social difference between people, and it's important to know that because the oil we had and the richness of the oil was not correctly redistribute between this people, this person.
SHAPIRO: So when you talk about social divisions, you mean class and income division.
SAINZ BORGO: Exactly. Sorry. I'm talking about the social difference between incomes and this strong feeling of frustration that had started growing up because of the corruption of the last part of our democracy cycle allowed populism to comes up and to rise up.
SHAPIRO: Your main character in the novel says she has a duty to survive, but she also feels a lot of survivor's guilt. Does that describe your own feeling about your home country of Venezuela?
SAINZ BORGO: Yeah, it describes perfectly my feeling with Venezuela, and I believe that it's a very universal phenomenon. When someone is - has survived the totalitarianism process like this, guilt is part of surviving.
SHAPIRO: That feeling of guilt - yeah.
SAINZ BORGO: That guilt is violence also in that sense. It's a very strong feeling, I believe, and not only in me - in all the Venezuelan people that run away from Venezuela.
SHAPIRO: In the acknowledgements, you write, to my land, always broken, scattered across both sides of the ocean. How would you say you relate to your home country today?
SAINZ BORGO: It's a very complicated relation. I have anger. I have some rage. I have this strong feeling of loneliness. And the worst thing is the country I want to go back to does not exist anymore. It was just completely erased, and that makes you feel weird and even makes you feel more old. You want to go back to a place that doesn't exist anymore as I know it.
SHAPIRO: I know there are plans to publish a special edition of the book in Venezuela. That seems so logistically challenging. We could have an entire conversation about how you managed to make that happen, but I'm more interested in how you think people in Venezuela will relate to this story.
SAINZ BORGO: I don't know how to - how they're going to read this because many people, Venezuelan people that had read the book - they're outside Venezuela. They're not inside. So I don't want them to feel that I'm judging them, and I want no one to understand that the one that runs away is the one who survives. But I really want them to understand that for me, this is a big letter of love to the country I miss and the country I still wish might appear again in the future.
SHAPIRO: When is the last time you set foot in Venezuela?
SAINZ BORGO: 2013. I remember it was a long time ago, and in that moment, I felt completely convinced that the country does not recognize me and I was not able to recognize the country anymore.
SHAPIRO: And is that the reason you haven't been back in six years?
SAINZ BORGO: Yeah, because it's so painful to discover the people you love, those places in which you work, those great people that were your bosses, your colleagues in your work - and you see them. You see them sad with no color in their eyes. They look like ghost. They go around like ghost walking through the city. Caracas is a ghost city. It's always night there. There's always dark because there's no light enough, and there's always these blackouts coming. And it's like, I do not recognize this. This is not the country I grew up.
SHAPIRO: Your description gives another layer of meaning to the title of your book, "It Would Be Night In Caracas."
SAINZ BORGO: Yeah, that's right. It's true. It's a metaphor as well. The book was published in Spanish in March, and that day had happened the biggest blackout in Venezuela, three days without light. And I asked myself, what did I write? Oh, Lord.
SHAPIRO: Did you cause this?
SAINZ BORGO: Sounds like it's, like, a prophecy. But I think it's the strong sense of the metaphor of - where it's so far from the future, and we are - we live in a kind of dark moment. We're not able to recognize ourselves anymore. We're all the time looking for stay alive, and it's so hard to understand. It's so difficult to accept that.
SHAPIRO: In the beginning of our conversation, you described the need you felt to write fiction to process your experiences. When you had finished writing the book and you had it on the page, did that do something for you? Did it change you? Did it fill the need that you had?
SAINZ BORGO: No. I must say that I wanted - I really wanted to write this story, but I do not feel better, and I cannot forget about the things I'm writing in this book. And sometimes, I think it's the beginning to a very long process of research, of personal research. Maybe in this book - it's true it's a book about a country that is disappearing into anarchy and corruption and this excessive power of a revolutionary process, and it's also a book about death and memories, and I think those issues has a lot to do with my country.
SHAPIRO: Karina Sainz Borgo, thank you for talking with us about your new book.
SAINZ BORGO: Thank you for your invitation, this great conversation. Thank you once again.
SHAPIRO: Thank you. Her debut novel is called "It Would Be Night In Caracas."
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