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Pablo Ramos, born 1966, is widely considered one of Argentina’s most interesting new authors. Raised in Greater Buenos Aires, the literary autodidact and musician left school at an early age. Liliana Heker, the famous writer also known for her commitment, encouraged his writing talent. For several years Ramos participated in Heker’s literature workshops, and she brought him in contact with publishing houses. After receiving numerous awards for his poetry, his first book of poems, “Lo pasado pisado,” was published in 1997. In 2004 he published his first novel, “El origin de la tristeza” (The Origin of Sadness). This dark tale on the life of young Gabriel in an outlying village was translated into German, French, and Portuguese. For his volume of short stories, “Cuando lo peor haya pasado,” Ramos was awarded two of the most prestigious literary prizes in Argentina and Cuba. His most recent novel, “La ley de la ferocidad,” returns to the fate of his hero Gabriel: now an adult drowning in despair following his father’s death, he literally rescues himself through writing. Ramos’s books appear throughout the Hispanic world, in Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Columbia, Venezuela, and Spain.

Already discernible in the title of his first novel, sadness is a topical constant in the works of Pablo Ramos, and it constitutes an integral part of his characters’ daily lives. As do a zest for life, the knack to throw improvised Bacchanalian parties, and to recognize beauty wherever it appears, even in misery, even in the slum: “In the summer everything was perfect because flowers bloomed in all the gardens. When their scents mingled with the heat, butterflies, and tones of Armando’s bellows, they made our corner the most beautiful in the world.” But also in the summer, while wandering the viaduct quarter and the polluted riverbed landscape day and night, the teenage Gabriel and his cohorts were not spared drama: a friend of theirs falls into bad company and gets shot robbing a jewelry store one night; Gabriel’s mother tries to take her own life when the father’s manufacturing workshop fails to bring in enough to ensure the family of six their already meager existence – and Gabriel forges a path through the joys and sorrows of adolescence: he falls in love with the pin-up Andrea C., whose naked body decorates a wall of the workshop, later with Marisa, the only respectable girl in the group, and finally with his Spanish teacher Miss Florencia. At the same time, he nurtures friendships with outsiders like the fifty-year-old Rolando, a man who drowns his need for love in threatening amounts of alcohol, speaks the finest Spanish, and inhabits a tomb. Rolando acquaints Gabriel with the mysteries of the cemetery, which serves as his home and source of income, since through skilled tricky he’s hired as a cemetery caretaker. How the realm of the dead is expressed and the way the startled young man’s viewpoint progressively changes are among the masterstrokes of this novel, which harbors so many worlds and surprises without being extensive. Ramos’s writing style is laconic and direct, a raw poetry, and his strong feeling for imagery in writing is sparingly applied yet used to great effect: “The moon hung directly over the cemetery. It shined down silvery and oily. The bright marble tombstones impressed me the most. They looked like old, forgotten mirrors with a malicious glitter.”

The experiences of young Gabriel, who grew up in the 1980s after the military dictatorship in Buenos Aires ended and witnessed firsthand the economic decline and the results of environmental pollution, are surely those of Pablo Ramos. In this respect, Ramos once said in an interview with translator Silke Kleeman: “It’s to my advantage that I come from a grindingly poor family myself.” Yet it would be a gross underestimation of this writer’s creativity, empathy, and poetic strengths to reduce his texts to autobiographical impressions. Like his novel’s hero, who pits writing against death, Ramos too, clearly views writing is a form of rescue. This is consistent with the fact that he leads a weekly literature workshop to help rescue others.

Publications translated into German: Der Ursprung der Traurigkeit (The Origin of Sadness), a novel; translated from Spanish by Susanna Mende; published by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt, 2007
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