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Restrepo, Laura 1950-

Restrepo, Laura 1950-


PERSONAL:

Born 1950, in Colombia.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Bogotá, Colombia. Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins Publishing, 10 E. 53rd St., New York, NY 10010.

CAREER:

Writer and journalist. Former professor of literature, National University of Colombia; former editor and publisher of Semana (periodical); member of editorial staff, Cromos. Peace Commission (negotiation committee between Colombian government and Colombia guerillas), member, 1984.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Premio Alfaguara de Novela Prize, 2004, for Delirio; Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Prize (Mexico), and Prix France Culture Award, both for The Angel of Galilea.

WRITINGS:


(With Camilo Gonzalez) Colombia, historia de una traicion, Fundamentos (Madrid, Spain), 1986, published as Historia de una traicion: Historia de perdon y de ira, de amor y de muerte, de pactos y de traiciones, Plaza & Janes (Bogotá, Colombia), 1986.

(With Roberto Bardini and Miguel Bonasso) Operacion Principe, Planeta (Mexico), 1988.

La isla de la pasión (historical fiction), Planeta (Bogotá, Colombia), 1989, published as Isle of Passion, Ecco (New York, NY), 2005.

El leopardo al sol, Planeta (Bogotá, Colombia), 1993, translated by Stephen A. Lytle as Leopard in the Sun, Crown (New York, NY), 1999.

Dulce compañia, Norma (Barcelona, Spain), 1995, translated by Dolores M. Koch as If an Angel—, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

The Angel of Galilea (novel), translated by Dolores M. Koch, Crown (New York, NY), 1997.

La novia oscura (novel), 2nd edition, Editorial Norma (Barcelona, Spain), 1999, translated by Stephan Lytle as The Dark Bride, Ecco/HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

La multitud errante, Planeta Colombiana (Bogotá, Colombia), 2001, translated as A Tale of the Dispossessed, Harper Perennial (New York, NY), 2004.

Olor a rosas invisibles, Editorial Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2002.

Delirio, Alfaquara (Bogotá, Colombia), 2004.

Columnist for La Journada and Proceso.

ADAPTATIONS:

The Dark Bride was adapted to audio-cassette.

SIDELIGHTS:

Colombian author and novelist Laura Restrepo is a politically active editor and former educator. In 1983, she was named by Colombian president Belisario Betancur as part of a peace commission conducting negotiations between the Colombian government and the M-19 guerillas. Her activities forced her into political exile in 1984, and she lived in self-imposed exile in Mexico for five years. After M-19 was turned into a legitimate opposition party in Colombia, she was able to return to Bogotá in 1989, where she has lived ever since.

Some publications by Restrepo have been translated into English. For example, her novel The Angel of Galilea, which earned the Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Prize and Prix France Culture Award. The tale concerns "people's special need for angels," observed a critic, who noted in Publishers Weekly that "Restrepo uses smoothly inflated characters exuding innocence and sensuality." The Angel of Galilea follows a Colombian tabloid reporter investigating an alleged angel in the poverty-stricken city of Galilea. Readers are presented portraits of the living angel's admirers and persecutors, as well as the angel's mother. The journalist becomes one of the angel's advocates, so much so that she eventually gives birth to the angel's child.

Restrepo mixes "particular aspects of Colombian society … with universal issues" and "brings tenderness, humor, and strength to this finely crafted novel," Carolyn Ellis Gonzalez asserted in Library Journal. According to Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman, at times Restrepo's "jabs at hypocrisy, misogyny, and corruption hit home, and her keen sense of the absurd comes across loud and clear, but [at other times] … the impact of this saucy tale is blunted." The Publishers Weekly critic more enthusiastically praised The Angel of Galilea, complimenting the author's wit and the "prose that's as light as a feather." New York Times Book Review contributor James Polk felt the novel fell short of it's potential. Although Polk recognized The Angel of Galilea as having "some sharply resonant passages and a number of provocative themes," the critic concluded that the "peculiar conglomeration" merely "provides a frustrating, tantalizing glimpse of the novel that might have been."

In 1999 English readers were presented with Leopard in the Sun, Stephen A. Lytle's translation of Restrepo's El leopardo al sol. In a narrative interspersed with conversations between nameless neighbors, Restrepo tells of the warring Barragnas and Monsalves. The two rival Colombian families, both wealthy as the result of illegal activities, are killing each other in order to eliminate all the males in the opposing clan. Because the killing continues, pregnant Alina, the wife of the Monsalves' leader, follows through on her threat to leave. Her husband wants her back, and tries to show that he has become a legitimate businessman. However, Alina prepares to escape to Mexico with the family's lawyer.

The author "employs a chorus of local gossips to advance the plot and a gentle irony to save it from pathos or melodrama," remarked Jack Shreve in Library Journal. "Restrepo combines prose swollen with sensory description and magical exaggeration with a journalistic precision," lauded Gillian Engberg, remarking in Booklist that the author's characters generally "are easily identifiable types." A Publishers Weekly contributor described the novel this way: "Brutal, intense and beautifully written, the novel delves deep into family hierarchies, the heady glamour and destructive power of sudden wealth and the play between fact and legend." The reviewer also described Restrepo's style as having both a unique "freshness" as well as "echoes of magic realism."

In The Dark Bride (La novia oscura), a filthy, undernourished young girl arrives in Tora, Colombia, determined to become a puta—a prostitute. Taken in, cleaned up, and trained by local puta Todos los Santos, the girl assumes the name Sayonara and quickly becomes the most sought-after prostitute among the oil-field workers and roughnecks that populate the town. Forgotten by Sayonara is Santiago, the boy who helped her on her first day in town by giving her a ride in his cart. Now an adult, Santiago is consumed with guilt for what he sees as his role in leading her toward her tawdry lifestyle. He wishes to save her, and by doing so, possess her completely. To help rescue her, Santiago gets a job in the oil fields, where he meets and befriends Payanes, who he enlists as his messenger to Sayonara. The story is complicated when Payanes and Sayonara fall in love, and Sayonara realizes that she cannot have the family that she secretly, but deeply, longs for. Payanes reveals that he already has a family, but Santiago is more than willing to marry Sayonara to achieve his goal of removing her from the life of a puta. Ultimately, his idealized notions of love are strained under the realities of life and the nagging knowledge that his wife was once a prostitute. Their relationship suffers, and Sayonara discovers she cannot return to the life she knew. A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that "it's hard not to get caught up in Restrepo's sexy, whirlwind narrative," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor considered the story to be "lushly imagined."

A Tale of the Dispossessed (La multitud errante) is also set in Toro, Colombia, and is a novel that "shimmers with an almost innocent charm and a quiet lyricism," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. As war rages in the areas surrounding Toro when the unnamed narrator, working in a refugee shelter in a convent, meets a man named Arawak Three Sevens. Born in the village of Santa Maria Bailarina, or Dancing Madonna, Three Sevens was found abandoned on the steps of a church. Named for the extra toe he possesses (twenty-one digits; hence, Three Sevens), the child is taken in and raised by village laundress Matilde Lima. When a massacre occurs in the village some months later, Three Sevens and Matilde join the survivors who have taken to the road, carrying with them the wooden sculpture of the Dancing Madonna. Their travels last for more than a decade, and when Three Sevens and Matilde are separated during an ambush when he is thirteen, he dedicates himself to finding the only woman in his life who has cared for him, and whom he has ever loved. Though the novel's narrator falls in love with Three Sevens, his almost Oedipal attachment to Matilde interferes with any other relationship. In the convent shelter, however, the Dancing Madonna will be restored, and Three Sevens, after five decades of struggle, will finally face the possibility of redemption and the chance at love. Library Journal reviewer Mary Margaret Benson observed that the novel covers a grim subject, but despite that, "this short, powerful, and crisply written novel is guardedly optimistic." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "vividly detailed, a florid fantasy that suggests the miraculous potential of hope and love in the midst of perpetual war."

In Delirio, a man returns to Bogotá from a business trip to find that his wife, Agustina, has been driven insane in a motel room. The story then focuses on the question of why this could happen, and how it came about. Agustina is a master at clever wordplay and language-based games such as Scrabble, but her mental deterioration is mirrored in her inability to utilize the language skills that impart meaning on her world. Restrepo's narrative suggests that many who live in Bogotá are defined by the deviant behavior in their lives. Only Agustina's husband manages to remain solid and sane while his wife and others around him display mental aberrations. Restrepo "skillfully develops a single major character who is untouched by the otherwise all-pervasive delirium surrounding him, and "at the conclusion, this man of integrity forcibly imposes some meaning on the world of his wife, Agustina," observed William L. Siemens in World Literature Today.

Isle of Passion, originally published in 1989 under the title La isla de la passion, is based on historical events from the early twentieth century. In 1908, Ramon Arnaud, a disgraced Mexican army officer, is assigned the task of defending the Mexican atoll of Clipperton—named the "Isle of Passion" by discoverer Magellan—from French incursion. Tainted with a reputation as a deserter early in his military career, Arnaud is determined to discharge his duty well and redeem his good name. Assigned to the island with his young wife, Alicia, and eleven other officers and their families, their period of initial idyllic contentment rapidly deteriorates when the onset of World War I disrupts deliveries of supplies to the island and basic survival becomes paramount. As disasters befall the inhabitants, their veneer of civilization begins to crumble—only by banding together can the islanders endure. Alicia emerges as a strong leader, helping to maintain control. Still, surprises continue to befall the battered and bewildered group, even as the possibility of survival becomes more and more remote. Benson, writing again in Library Journal, commented that "this extraordinarily gripping novel communicates surprising lessons on the human condition." Restrepo "pulls the various elements together with a clear, no-nonsense cartographer's precision, and the result is smooth sailing indeed," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:


PERIODICALS


Booklist, June 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of The Angel of Galilea, p. 1670; June 1, 1999, Gillian Engberg, review of Leopard in the Sun, p. 1794; October 1, 2005, Allison Block, review of Isle of Passion, p. 36.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of The Dark Bride, p. 1260; July 1, 2004, review of A Tale of the Dispossessed, p. 601.

Latin Trade, December, 2004, review of Delirio, p. 58.

Library Journal, August, 1998, Carolyn Ellis Gonzalez, review of The Angel of Galilea, p. 134; June 15, 1999, Jack Shreve, review of Leopard in the Sun, p. 110; August, 2004, Mary Margaret Benson, review of A Tale of the Dispossessed, p. 69; October 15, 2005, Mary Margaret Benson, review of Isle of Passion, p. 48.

New York Times Book Review, October 11, 1998, James Polk, review of The Angel of Galilea, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1998, review of The Angel of Galilea, p. 61; July 19, 1999, review of Leopard in the Sun, p. 183; August 5, 2002, review of The Dark Bride, p. 54; June 15, 2004, review of A Tale of the Dispossessed, p. 41; September 12, 2005, review of Isle of Passion, p. 40.

World Literature Today, September-December, 2005, William L. Siemens, review of Delirio, p. 105.

ONLINE


HarperCollins Web site,http://www.harpercollins.com/ (June 4, 2006), biography of Laura Restrepo.

Latin American Review of Books Online, http://http://www.latamrob.com/ (June 4, 2006), biography of Laura Restrepo.

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