Voices Without Borders: Margo Glantz — Crown of Flies

Instituto Cervantes is hosting Voices without Borders: Encounters with Contemporary Mexican Writers, a series of lectures with internationally acclaimed Mexican writers. The panel discussions include authors Yuri Herrera, Alvaro Enrigue, Margo Glantz, Elena Poniatowska, Cristina Rivera Garza and Sabina Berman. Each discussion pairs the writer with local Chicago scholars and journalists to explore the array of themes raised in their books, especially those dealing with socio-political issues. These panels also allow the opportunity to discover each writer’s philosophies.

The remaining lectures for 2013 include:
Rivera Garza (The Taiga’s Syndrome) on October 3
Poniatowska (The Heart of the Artichoke) on October 15
Berman (Me – Who Dove Into the Heart of the World) on November 21

Professor Margo Glantz was presented Sept. 25 and she read from and discussed her book, Crown of Flies, a personal exploration of the travels she took to India. The book features exquisite photography by her daughter, Alina López Cámara. The scholar, also a world traveler, has published over 25 books and written for the most important newspapers and magazines in Mexico, Latin America and other countries. Her work has been translated to English, French and Italian and she is a visiting professor at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and U.C. Berkeley, among others, as well as being professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

Crown of Flies explains in extraordinary detail the fascinating contrasts India has to offer. When asked by host Gerardo Cardenas what it was about India that intrigued her so much that she continued to travel back for more, she explained, “It’s an extraordinary subcontinent that fascinates me while at the same time causing great revulsion. It provided this explosion of happiness and a tremendous violence within me.” Each trip allowed her to take copious amounts of notes and in her unassuming and sweet, almost comedic manner she explained that later she would have a bit of a struggle with deciphering some of her own writing. She went on to explain that having a weekly writing deadline for a newspaper helped her gather her thoughts into writing and later she’d be able to put it all together for this magnificent work of literature.

margo glantz
Margo Glantz

Glantz traveled to India for the first time in the winter of 2004. Later, in 2008, she experienced a tsunami and it was in 2010 that she was in Delhi for a world book fair. She explains that there was always a great occurrence that happened during each of her three travel experiences, which she goes on about in intricate detail in her writing. Glantz also shared that even though many books and experiences of travel to India have been written about by many others, each person will always have their own interpretation. “Even my daughter, through her pictures, that is her story. That is what she saw each time we traveled together. It’s amazing what each of us gets out of these experiences to this wondrous and disgusting paradise.”

Glantz continuously alludes to these amazing contrasts throughout the lecture. When she first arrived in India, the smells alone created havoc. There was the constant smell of curry and sandalwood along with the putrid smell of sickness, decay and death. There were the eye-popping colors of magnificence all around accompanied by the eye-popping images of flesh falling off bone from those suffering from leprosy. Glantz explains, “This book relates all of these experiences… everything from the misery, the filth, the sickness while at the same time being surrounded by extreme beauty.”

Crown of Flies contains passages of personalities and places as references to the literature India has provided interculturally. Glantz also alludes to other authors including Octavio Paz and E.M. Forster, among others. To Glantz, India is a place of inspiration where “everything you see, you feel. The texture, smell and beauty of this country is always present, even the horrible smell of something like feces. It’s there in your face, but so is magnificent beauty. It all comes together at some point.”