Mario Mendoza: “Training to defeat puts your ego in its place”

Mario Mendoza sits on a bench at the Colombian headquarters of Editorial Planeta in Bogotá, August 4, 2022.

The writer Mario Mendoza (Bogotá, 1964) entered the kitchen and seemed to see the objects that had always been there suddenly laughing, the glasses mocking him. He wanted to go crazy. The 2020 pandemic locked him at home. Monologue of the day and confusion in an imposed solitude, sad and shameless: his origin died and he could not say goodbye to him due to government measures linked to the coronavirus. “I fell, I collapsed,” admits Mario, a monstrosity of readers and sales in Colombia but little appreciated by critics.

Mario has olive green eyes, salt and pepper bangs, a bushy beard and a burly complexion. His hands move in time with the speech and his voice is like a whistle full of memorable quotes. “For me, recitation is an altered state of consciousness,” he says. Sitting on a rotary tool, he suddenly grabs a pen and paper and scribbles to explain an idea, as if giving a lecture. The interview with EL PAÍS will take place on the eighth floor of the Editorial Planeta in Bogotá. Traffic noise is barely audible in the meeting room. The cold enters through the window; a covered but luminous Gloria saturates the panorama. Mario is weighed down by the light and explains that it’s a trace of the long handwriting.

He has just announced Discover is Resistor, a tribute to recitation interwoven with personal stories. He smiles saying he had to reprimand the items in the kitchen. “I had the impression that they despised me, that they took me for a wretch,” he recalls. After the crime of his origin, Mario had two accidents in 2020. First he was run over by a motorcycle and his oar broke. Shortly after, he broke his ribs in a fall in the bathroom. He survived for several months with the help of nurses. He was lame, had to lie down in a sitting position, and had temporarily lost mobility in his straight oar. “It didn’t go well for me in the duel. Looking back now, I don’t know if it was a mountain or if it was something my subconscious was looking for without me noticing”, “I think there’s a connection between grief and self-harm, and for a reason: part of the grieving process is the sin of not being able to do a little for the other person. In my loneliness I hatched the worst hypotheses where sin surfaced: Why didn’t I invent ways to salute my origin? And that sin comes with a punishment. So how do you punish yourself? You’ll get sick,” he thought. Writing was his salvation. Thinking about how to get around, he got up and started writing with his left hand.

Integrity is perhaps what most defines Mario Mendoza. At first, it was difficult for her to enter the world of publishing. Her second novel, Scorpio City, was rejected by seven publishers. He travels to the United States, convinced that he will not be able to become a writer and that he will not be educated in his country. In the late 1990s, an editor from Planeta found the manuscript and called him to say they were going to announce it. He changed his college education to the United States – where he was a professor and would begin a doctorate – and returned to Bogotá. “I had to train in defeats and that’s very important because it puts your ego in the right place, because it teaches you stamina and courage and builds character through blows like metal,” says- he. When the novel was published, it was critically acclaimed. “The feeling of having failed in duty is an integral part of life”, says Mario.

In 1995, he won the Francoist Prize for Literature with La travesía del vidente. He had competed with the same novella for four consecutive years. “It’s strange that they now talk so much about success when they should be talking more about the meaning of failure,” he wrote reluctantly in Reading.

No challenge is too big for Mario. He is one of the few authors to have ventured into several literary genres: novels, formations, comics, pulp letters and graphic novels. His books have been translated into German, Danish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Arabic.

Mario Mendoza is incarcerated at the Colombian headquarters of Editorial Planeta in Bogotá, on August 4, 2022. CamiloRozo


Mario contracted gangrenous peritonitis when he was seven years old. The prognosis was definitive: they expelled him. “They gave me the sacred oils and everyone was waiting for the crime to happen,” he says in the book. During his convalescence, he read the first children’s books offered to him. Recitation brought him back to life and marked his destiny as a writer. “I believe recitation forces us to be inside others, to penetrate others. It’s a healthy test that prepares us to be different, to put myself from the other’s point of view, ”he confides in an interview.

Dedicated to letters, he led a hermit’s life and with the discipline of an athlete. “A work depends, more than talent, on temperance of character,” he wrote in La recitación resiste. Mario rides a bike and doesn’t have a utility vehicle. He’s not on social media. “I’m not interested, I don’t want excuses for myself,” he says. “Literary recitation goes directly against this oppression. If the system offers us narcissism in multiple aspects (me on Instagram, me on Facebook, me on YouTube, me on Tiktok, me in my daily selfies, me and my followers), the books offer us the exact opposite: how to get out of me, to become others”, he explains in the book.

Mario avoids elite cocktail parties and social circles where writers often hang out. His book launches have no interest in clubs or fancy venues behind closed doors. He does them in public libraries, with free entry. In fact, one of his last signings was in Soacha, a town south of Bogotá teeming with squalor and bookstores. At events, readers often make candy for hours while waiting for Mario to sign an artwork for them. At the last work fair in Bogotá, he signed more than five thousand copies. “Many years ago I rejected this show in which the lyrics become not only an elite show but also a social show. I think it’s very important to bring signatures to Soacha because we “We can’t keep giving this false message that lyrics are for the few. We need to change this nation and send a message of equality and participatory democracy,” he said.

Mario is not a monstrosity that has gone from confusion to morning. For years it has captivated young readers in public libraries and schools. He justifies his success by saying that his lyrics appeal to people who have felt left behind. “In almost all my work there is a very deep descent into the unconscious, there is a search for catharsis”, he explains. Mario is among others the author of “Race Collection”, “History of a Homicide”, “Diary of the End of the World”, “Lady Massacre”, “The Importance of Succumbing in Time”, “Tragedy”.

The writer Mario Mendoza during a signing session.The writer Mario Mendoza during a editorial planet signing session.

In his work, Mario moves away from complex and baroque jargon. This is perhaps one of the problems of the Corporation -which I call “mummified, stiff”-. Critics doubt that it is read as much as he. “The canon discounts or disqualifies books that sell very well. They tend to differentiate between commercial and whimsical; They associate the exquisite with the minority, and this division is a bit silly. You may owe things that sell well but are harmless, frivolous, and mundane. I agree that numbers and sales are not necessarily an aesthetic argument, but even the opposite, because then you would have to disqualify Don Altruista,” he explains.

The rhythm of his novels and essays is agile; his prose, pointed. He is a fine observer of the chiaroscuro of human life. He writes about adventures, science fiction, murderers, paranormal phenomena and mental health. He always approaches the introspection of his characters with a common thread that surrounds the reader. In a world where social networks reign supreme, in a country – Colombia – whose recitation rate is 2.7 books per capita, it has captivated an army of readers of all ages: children who have begun to observe at school, up to the adults who have followed his path. for 30 years

In 2002, Mendoza published Satán, a novel that interweaves several stories of the 1986 holocaust committed by Campo Elías Delgado, a retired military man from the Vietnamese feud. On the same day, he killed his own origin and about 28 other people, most of them in the Pozzeto restaurant, which he frequented. During the holocaust, he looked for Mario Mendoza, a classmate, at the university, but could not find him. At the time, Mario was an arts student living in dilapidated buildings in downtown Bogotá. From that moment, he knew he had to write a novel, but after many years of writing, he couldn’t find the right tone; He rewrote it three times before succeeding. With Satán, Mendoza won the Biblioteca Breve prize 20 years ago, awarded by the Seix Barral publishing house in Barcelona (he was the only Colombian to win this prize). Again, the critics were relentless. The novel was a publishing success and was filmed.


In his affected speech, Mario explored human fear, human cruelty. Five years ago, he hadn’t even started writing a novel (during that time he focused on writing his graphic novels Kaopolis, The Fugitives and The Last Day on Earth, and wrote the Shipwreck Log and Reading is Resisting tests). After the last novel he wrote, Akelarre, he felt he couldn’t turn his back on her. I was devastated. But a story has already started, which will address the neglect of mental health in society: “I think we are all crazy, there is a generic illusion, and I have been immersed in this illusion.” In the background of Mario’s words, one suspects that an impoverished Germania makes the world calmer. Perhaps that’s why he sees lyrics as a powerful and beautiful form of resistance.

“Are you thinking about old age?”

“I’m old now,” he laughs. For me, sustainability is no longer a theory, but a fact. I am 58 years old and I am already an old man. I feel like you have to satisfy crafting so you don’t form a clan, for example.

“And you regret it?

-Minimum. I would take the same decisions, but that the elaboration is not paid for when one is a chicken, it is paid for a posteriori —he stops and continues—there is a loneliness in the writer which is very hard. It hurts when I eat alone because of the confusion. I can’t sit in the kitchen in silence because I find the sight depressing. I need to turn on the TV, watch the games, listen a little…

“What are you afraid of today?”

Has a long incurable illness. I saw my father succumb to cancer and it seems like a terrible disease to me. I don’t have the temper to put up with things like that. And I’m very afraid that they’ll slander me, that someone pretends to be me, denies my identity, writes emails in my name, and succeeds me two or three years in a row to prove that I’m not true .

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