Teacher, writer and novelist Jorge Majfud. (Photo/ Jacksonville University)
Jorge Majfud is a writer, novelist and professor of Spanish and Latin American literature at the University of Jacksonville in Florida whose books — including his fourth, Crisis, to be on the market in the U.S. in June — share a common thread: They are born from his experiences as a Latino and as an immigrant.
Uruguayan by birth, Majfud’s childhood in the 70’s was imprinted by the stream of political affairs in the Southern Hemisphere: political persecution, corruption, years of suffering and torture – real, psychological and moral — and social solidarity. “Those were years of listening at the official speeches and holding back the unofficial truth, of watching universal injustices and being unable to stop them,” Majfud told Voxxi.
“Until someone pushed you to take sides, and when you refused to do it, then you became a ‘critic’ of the events, a suspicious one but ultimately a critic.”
A writer who confesses learning to read newspapers before nursery rhymes in kindergarten, Majfud, 42, describes himself as an avid devourer of the “classics” during those formidable childhood years. Perhaps as a form of escape from reality. “It was a time of fantastic discoveries, perceiving literature as something useless but fascinating,” he said.
Taking after his mother, Majfud explored the world of painting and sculpture, and ended up at the School of Architecture in the University of the Republic of Uruguay. However, he could not resist writing essays and fiction during those years, which “not only channeled my psychological conflicts but also gave me a new philosophical perspective about reality and fiction, of what was important and not.”
During seven years working as an architect, Majfud came to realize that reality was built more from words than from bricks. Soon after, his first novel, Memorias de un desaparecido (Memories of a Missing Person), was published in 1996.
Fast forward to 2012 and Majfud is about to give birth to his fourth novel, Crisis, which will be printed in Spain and available to the U.S. market next month. “On its surface, Crisis is the drama ofLatin-American immigrants, especially those undocumented ones, in the United States,” Majfud told Voxxi. “At a deeper level, it is the universal drama of those individuals fleeing from a geographical space, apparently looking for a better life but in reality, fleeing themselves; fleeing a reality perceived as unfair but rarely solved through the actual physical relocation.”
Missing, moving, fleeing individuals seem to be recurrent characters in Majfud’s writings, which document their paths towards permanent discovery of their own identity in different realities and situations. These characters stumble upon communication barriers and live through moral, economic and cultural violence as inevitable components of their double drama: as social and as existential beings.
Faithful to his architectural past, Majfud chose a “mosaic” format for his new novel.
“They are fractals in the sense that they may be nearly the same at different scales,” he said. “Each story can be read by itself but when read through, they form an image, such as the pieces of a mosaic, a reality that is less visible to the individual but it can be seen from afar as a collective experience.”
Many of its characters are different but they share the same names – Guadalupe, Ernesto, and so on – because they are collective roles. “Sometimes we believe our life is unique and particular without perceiving we are merely replicating our ancestors’ past experiences or the same dramas of our contemporaries living in different spaces but in similar conditions,” Majfud said. “We are individuals in our particularities but we are collectives in our human condition.”
Each story is set in a different U.S. location with Latin American images appearing in inevitable flash-backs. “Each time a character goes to eat at a Chili’s – a Tex-Mex chain restaurant – trying to navigate a reality between a Hispanic and an Anglo-Saxon context, it is hard to say if they are in California, Pennsylvania or Florida,” Majfud said.
Likewise, he chose Spanish names for all the cities where the stories take place. “It is a way to vindicate a culture that has been under attack for a long time. Just looking at the United States map, you can find a large amount of geographical spaces named with Spanish words, names like‘Escondido’, ‘El Cajón’, ‘Boca Ratón’ o ‘Colorado,’ especially in certain states where they are predominant.”
Novel «La ciudad de la luna» by Jorge Majfud. (The city of the moon)
“However,” he said, “they are invisible to the English speaker, who in his/her ignorance considers them as part of the daily vocabulary. The history ofHispanic culture becomes then subdued, disappears under this blanket of collective amnesia, in the name of a non-existent tradition. Spanish language and culture were in this country one century before the first English settlers arrived, and have never left. Consequently, we cannot qualify Spanish language and culture as being ‘foreign.’ This label is a violent strategy for an indiscernible but dreadful culturicide.”
Although Majfud believes all individuals share a common base – not only biological and psychological but also moral in its most primitive levels – they also differ in certain characteristics, which in our times are considered positive, with certain exceptions, such as cultural diversity.
“Such differences produce fears and conflicts, actions and reactions, discrimination and mutual rejection,” he said. “It is natural that these cultural currents, the Anglo-Saxon and the Hispanic cultures, would reproduce the universal dynamics of dialogue and conflict, and integration and rejection from one another, elements that are also present in Crisis.”
Finally, Majfud talked about his achievements. “A writer’s life, like any other person’s, looks like his résumé: the most impressive record of achievements hides a number of failures, sometimes larger than the successes.”
Majfud believes his best achievement is his family; one with failures, because he is human, but his main achievement so far.
“I doubt my actions, sometimes obsessively; however, I never have doubts about the angel I have brought to this life, my son. I hope he will be a good man, not without conflicts or contradictions but an honest one, serene and the happiest he can be,” Majfud said.
“This desire does not have a rational explanation, it just is. As the most important things in life, which are few, it does not depend on reason.”
Shown here is Ernesto Camacho’s painting, “Christie’s World“ from his Series, “Diaries of a City”. “Christie’s World” Christie’s World is a depiction of a single mother in a big city. Although surrounded by the hard, fast paced society of New York, she never looses the quality of being a gracious woman. Even though life in the Big Apple can become disheartening at times, Christy remains alive. (Photo/ Courtesy Majfud with artist permission)