Juan Tomás

Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel (1966) is Equatorial Guinea’s most translated writer. He is from Annobón, a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean, despite he has been living most of his life in the capital, Malabo. He writes in Spanish and has published a dozen of titles in different genres.

He is mostly known by his novel By Night the Mountain Burns, shortlisted at the UK 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. He is also known by the novel The load (1999), Airplane of the Rich, Thief of Pigs (2008) and Panga Rilene (2016). His last novel, The Gurugu Pledege (2017), has been published in English and French.

He was worked as a nurse, editor and candy street vendor. He actually lives in exile in Catalonia, after a hunger strike against the regime of Teodoro Obiang. He has received several literary awards and his work is studied by scholars around the world.

He publishes regularly in his blog Malabo, in the digital magazine Frontera D.

Literary work

The literary work of Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel is vast, some titles and sold out and others remain unpublished. This is a selection of a dozen of his books.

THE LOAD. Palmar, 1999. In this ironic model we find the colonial past confronted with the present of the country. Situated in Mbini during the Spanish colonization and, in parallel, in the continental part of Equatorial Guinea by the end of the XX century.

JUDA’S FAINT. Centro Cultural Hispano-guineano de Malabo, 2001. A book written between Valencia and Malabo starting with the birth of Judas Garamond: “the wind blows in the East Coastal village of the peninsula. Bad wind for some”. The main character is Juan Vives, a youngster in the search for happiness. Sects, dreams and identity apply.

HOW TO MAKE THIS COUNTRY A PARADISE. Pángola, 2005. A dictionary of around 70 words edited in a very humble way, but with deep content. Deals with local issues as water supply, government breakdowns o why the presidents are called “daddies”. A straight text, precise and conclusive, shooting here and there.

VISCERAS. Novatores, 2006. “Is it fair that this or that president leaves the power to his son?”, writes Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel. And the question still remains valid. The book is a portrait of Equatorial Guinea, where he finds several similitudes with a feudal system. A defense of the inclusive and social development.

CRUDE TALES. AECI, 2007. Christmas without Christmas, communitarian toilets, a political summit, electricity and corruption are amongst the issues of these five short and witty stories. A book of less than 50 pages written in Malabo two years before its publication.

AIRPLANE OF THE RICH, THIEF OF PIGS. El Cobre, 2008. The funniest book, with a brothel in Bata full of Barcelona football fans, a doctor aroused by the youth and, suddenly, the sadness or the death in the sea. A picaresque novel where the smile ends frozen by the justice and prisons in Guinea.

BY NIGHT THE MOUNTAIN BURNS. Calambur/And other stories, 2009. For many, his masterpiece. A trip to a small island in the Atlantic Ocean where he was raised from 7 to 13 years. Ávila Laurel says that only two things of this book are fully true: the epidemic of cholera and the sad crime narrated. Despite that, the pages are full of truthful life. A costumbrist novel from an adult that remembers himself as a kid. Starts with a song and permeates isolation, orality, the unpredictability of the writer and giant squids.

BASIC DICTIONARY. CEIBA, 2011. Another astute dissection of Equatorial Guinea. Here we discover the animation choirs, anniversaries of the dictator, the accomplices, the rice and the idiocy. Without sentimentality, but with forceful truths.

PERPENDICULAR LETTERS. Verbum, 2012. An excellent compilation of some of his lesser-known texts by Elisa Rizo. Includes essay (Droit de seigneur), poetry, prose fiction (Áwala cu sangui) and theatre (Imperfect tense, Domestic men and Failure of the shadows). A tribute to an author that wants the “conscience awakening of his country” and that Rizo compares with Frantz Fanon.

CORISCO’S DICTADOR. Pángola, 2014. In the tiny island of Corisco a hundred people live surrounded by the sea. Until the day Anika, a Dutch traveler, appears without notice and everything changes. A novel that brings closer several generations and their memories of some sensitive chapters of the history of the country.

PANGA RILENE. Calambur, 2016. The oddest novel. A dystopian future situated in a world ecologically devastated. A woman dressed as a man is the main character.

THE GURUGURU PLEDGE. And Other Stories, 2017. This hill situated 10 kilometers away from Melilla (Spain) has become a gathering point for African migrants. A first-hand person novel published in English and French (Sur le mont Gourougou).

Equatoguinean literature

The professor of the University of Salamanca and writer Justo Bolekia Boleká divides the Equatoguinean literature in three periods. The first, precolonial (since 1778), characterized by the orality. Then comes colonial times (1778-1968) and, finally, postcolonial (from 1968).

This African country was one of the last to become independent and scholars agree to point out the late appearance of its literature, mostly written in Spanish. The first book is When the Kombe fought (1953) by Leoncio Evita. The second, A spear for the Boabí by Daniel Jones Mathama (1962).

The literary work published in the 80s stands out, as with Reencounter, the retour of an exiled (1985), by Juan Balboa Boneke –father of the singer Concha Buika–, Ekomo (1985) from the first female novelist María Nsué, Shadows of your Black Memory (1987) by Donato Ndongo and Voices from the surf (1987) by Ciriaco Bokesa.

A selection of those titles is included at the Anthology of Guinena Literature (1984) by Donato Ndongo, Word and memory: Equatorial Guinea 25 years after (2010) by Landry-Wilfrid Miampika, New Anthology of Equatoguinean Literature (2012) by Gloria Nistal and M’bare N’gom, and Women voices from Equatorial Guinea (2015) by Remei Sipi