On the role of the reader: Book Club with Javier Cercas

Spoiler alert! Proceed with caution in case of not having read the thriller Terra Alta by Javier Cercas. Today’s book club featured a close encounter between Spanish author Javier Cercas and his readers; the attendees not only read Terra Alta but actually ate The Blind Spot, literally. To warm up the event, Cercas brought a cake in the shape of one of his books –with tittle inscription included– to share with everything in the room. What followed was a discussion about the role of what Cercas calls the true protagonists of literature: the readers.

Dialogues with readers have become fast and simple in the digital era, but they’re fundamental since the 19th century, when the novel, as a genre, began to really bloom. Dickens once changed the personality of an antagonistic character when a reader of the same name wrote to him to say that people in his town rejected him no-thanks to the wrongs of this villain; and telenovelas, a favorite in Latin America, are famous for changing plots according to the wishes of the audience.

One of the first demands of the members of the book club was to know if Terra Alta would have a sequel, the ending offered no closure. And the almost unanimous lament was why the author had killed one of the best characters. “Revive her, like Dickens!” They said. “I didn’t murder her, it was that son of a bitch who did it!” From there on, they explored the nature of Melchor Marín, the main character of the novel, an outcast who has always been exposed to violence, who is anything but refined and yet know Les Misérables practically by heart. Cercas also had to delve into Victor Hugo’s masterpiece to bring his character into that universe.

From speaking of classics and heroes, the subject changed to history and politics. Right before the end of the session, they arrived at the heart of the matter: justice. Is revenge legitimate when justice isn’t made? The question remained as Cercas encouraged the attendees –some of which had been at his talks at Hay Festival Jericó last weekend– to go see Alberto Manguel, a fellow Hay Festival Cartagena participant who is what he calls “the best reader he knows.”