“The Third Paradise” is written by Cristian Alarcón, a longtime journalist, Chilean of origin, but in reality a man of indisputable mingling with the neighboring universe, Argentina.
Difficult to find Alarcón’s works in bookstores, with the exception of “El tercer paraíso”, so far more journalist than writer. Man with a long academic career in journalism, founder of Anfibia magazine and with more than one award to his credit before Alfaguara 2022.
His professional work speaks of a man dedicated to building a new perspective for journalism and perhaps for this reason he is rarely mentioned in Chile, he does not fit into the usual models of journalistic writing, he has chosen to build and dedicate himself to recounting events using the possibilities of literature , as he himself states, making journalism a tool that presents reality without occupying fiction, at least not necessarily, in the idea of not only informing but also moving, which means not informing even immediately, journalism seen not as a race to see who it tells first, but more as a tool for transformation by resorting to the emotion that the news arouses in people and, therefore, in society. A great goal, to give journalism a new meaning and a heart, or perhaps help it return to a somewhat forgotten path, given that everything causes changes in people, in nature, and has repercussions on life.
It’s not about judgment or criticism, at least not fundamentally, it’s about how it feels whenever something happens, whether we care or not, it feels.
From journalism to literary journalism and from there to literature itself, there is a long way to go with determination and tenacity until you reach “El Tercer paraíso”. It’s not a fast road, but it’s a path where talent and pen develop and build. The jury report of the Alfaguara Prize states that the novels presented in the competition for the year 2022 were 899 and that 7 of them passed the threshold, where “El tercer paraíso” stood out indisputably, having been chosen as the winner by vote unanimous as the chosen one 1. without sharing the podium with anyone else, how are you doing?
The novel, says the Alfaguara jury, has two alternating narrative lines, which gives it great narrative strength as it alternates the story of the narrator’s ancestors with his own, through a prose that adapts to the events that speak of southern Chile and Argentina over a long period of time. What else could be added to such excellent words? Telling what the novel is about, ignoring the end to facilitate reading? Do a technical style analysis? To say that paradise cannot be found, is sought and built? Maybe the right thing would be to venture into that imprint, let’s start the journey.
“The Third Paradise” has three parts, or rather three gardens that show their colours, smells, plants and stories in medium-short length texts without presumptuous names, simple numbers from 1 to 157 which could very well be the flowers of the gardens we cross as we read, as well as the moments or emotions that these flowers build throughout life, or maybe they are just numbers that allow us to differentiate one moment from another, whatever, they give a rhythm.
The novel traces its narrator’s life here and there, in Chile and Argentina, always in the south, it is not a novel with a continuous timeline, it comes and goes, sways like treetops in the wind, back and forth in short and long stretches.
“The Third Paradise” is organized in three gardens. The first garden tells the story of the family, especially of the women, beings from the countryside of southern Chile who make the cultivation of plants mixed with vegetables the friendly space of their life, and from those gardens they build family survival. The narrator binds his life, knowing that plants are the union with these women, that his legacy is the memory of those spots of flowery colors in the middle of the hills, hard lives of peasant women of Mapuche origin where the surnames of the conquest have tried to erase its origin. To those memories he is adding a new way of life, his own, a garden that is a thread of life, there is no reason to lose it, even if the inevitable earthquake of 1960, as well as the coup d’état of 1973 make one feel that the garden loses its color, but there’s nothing left to build a garden, you have to be stubborn to go on.
We enter the second garden at number 56 and exit at 110, in the midst of all these moments, some shorter than others, the narrator continues learning about flowers, looking for colors and a way to build his garden, but at the same time, Nadia’s story tells, the development of family history along the line of women, from great-grandmothers to grandmothers, from them to mothers and daughter, but also the history of botany, the support of other countries to overcome the earthquake, the United States always present as a guardian angel so as not to be forgotten. The story progresses, you have to be careful not to get lost, like in gardens, you don’t have to confuse the scents, otherwise we’ll confuse the flower, the time of year, the color, we have to tie ourselves to the story of this second garden it doesn’t cost, it’s like life , it must be built with energy, with effort because ordinary people always lack something, one never has everything, often not even the essentials, but we are learning to live, we always learn something, sneaks in Humboldt, who turns out to be much more than a marine current and the coup of 1973, ever present, generation after generation after generation.
And we get to the third garden at 111 and it turns out that we have entered the refuge of exile in Argentina, but it is still south, only on the other side of the mountain range, still in the middle of lakes and hills, the narrator says back and forth from adulthood to childhood she comes and goes between Chile and Argentina, she comes and goes insisting on building their garden, the ancestral women have already done their part in building the family, now it is the parents who appear, gardeners like theirs ancestors, gardeners like the son and grandson.
I’m not sure I find out why Cristian Alarcón’s novel is called “The Third Paradise”, we go from garden to garden in the middle of the typical peasant life of southern Chile and sometimes Argentina, flowers are energy, they always bloom again, they acclimate to new lands , it doesn’t matter if they are original, maybe they change a little color, size, perfume, but they survive, they become a derivative, they continue to live, they continue to be a colorful flower that brightens the gardens swayed by the south wind Paradise is always found, it’s about building it, once, twice, three times if necessary, but life always flourishes.
With this novel, Alarcón not only won the Alfaguara 2022 award, but he also added a new line of professional development, I see how from a journalist he became an investigative journalist and reporter, to which he now adds the profession of writer. One could say that he has gone to his fourth garden and is on his way to a fourth heaven. Great job this novel, undoubtedly worthy of the prize won.