The last time I saw Claudio López was in his redoubt, that office crammed with books stacked in towers on his desk and comments written on a blackboard in the offices of Penguin Random House on Via Travesera de Gracia, in Barcelona. As he was almost always dressed in black and that morning he was in a good mood: he smiled like that, lopsided and silent, with an air of charm and mystery, with which he seduced his friends, colleagues and authors. The night before he had fallen to the Lliure theater with Ángeles González Sinde to see one of the last functions of The solar system, Mariana de Althaus, and stay to see the conversation she had, my partner, with the director and the actors of the work, so that the first thing he did when he saw me that April morning was to talk to me with great emotion about the work that I had seen, from Mariana and also from Peru. I wanted to know how everything was going in my country or rather I wanted him to confirm everything good that he knew was happening in Peru. His enthusiasm was evident. He talked a lot about Jerónimo Pimentel, the young and brilliant publishing director of PRH in Peru, and my friend, who had hired a little over a year ago. He told me some of the surprises I had received from him and from the publishing scene in Peru, and he asked me how I observed everything. I remember that I told him that I saw everything very encouraging but that it seemed urgent to give Pimentel a good rest. I was working too much.
"One of these days is going to give you a syncope, Claudio," I remember, I said, half jokingly and half seriously.
What I could not even imagine is that who would suffer not a syncope but a cerebral infarction would be him and right in those facilities we were in that morning, from which he said goodbye after giving me some advice on the movements that I should give in my life and a fantastic amount of those books that always surrounded him. He said goodbye with a hug and went happily to the streets of the neighborhood of Gracia, without imagining that it was the last time he would see him and that in the same place he had been, and only in a few months, death would surprise him to interrupt a of the brightest publishing careers in the Hispanic world.
The first time I saw Claudio in Lima had been years ago, sometime after we met for the first time in Madrid after he hired my novel in absolutely unimaginable terms. Was that bet for the first book of a totally unknown Peruvian writer who had only published a book of stories that had not exhausted its circulation in local edition? Claudio arrived in Lima to reaffirm that yes and the first thing he asked me was to take him to most of the spaces in the city where that novel he had just hired, a journey that would end up being a tour by Peruvian literature that he knew well. I remember walking with that imposing and playful air I had looking at the University Park and Plaza San Martin where the novels of Vargas Llosa, looking at the fifth of Miraflores where the stories of Ribeyro happened and also walking the gloomy facilities of what had been Magazine Caretas in the jungle of Camaná in the center of Lima where some of the episodes of the journalistic life of my character Gabriel Lisboa happened. I quickly realized that Lopez de la Madrid loved the ornate flavor of the cities of Latin America: the only time I saw him really laugh was when the taxi in which we were going was stranded in the middle of Javier Prado and I remember how comfortable I was looking at the kiosks of used books of the Quilca jiron, in the Center. It was in one of those several meetings, probably on the night that he enjoyed as a child Central food seasoned with the explanations of the chef Pía León and in which we both left the restaurant drawing eses, which communicated the plan that I had to install an office of Random House Mondadori (that's the name of the group then) in Peru. It was 2012 and he had used his days in the city to meet with booksellers, editors and some journalists. I will not forget the last long walk we took to the Miraflores and Barranco boardwalk the morning we went to Barcelona. That time Claudio finished spraying the last of my dreams of living in Spain.
-And you're going to leave all this? He said, looking at the bay and the buildings, the vision of paragliders, runners and people enjoying the view of the Pacific Ocean. If you have everything here Here is your wife and here your readers will be. The battle has to be given here. It is in Latin America where everything is about to happen.
With time I checked that Claudio practiced what he believed. His certainty was that the future of the book and literature industry would be played in our countries, and he understood perfectly that writers like several of his friends -Rafael Gumucio in Chile, César Aira or Fabián Casas in Argentina- could make literature grow our countries working from their countries. It was necessary to recompose the relationship between Spain and Latin America. Give autonomy to the countries where the group operated. Decentralize. I also think that Claudio wanted to make sure that he always had friends and reasons to return to the countries where he wanted to be. He traveled like almost no one tending an air bridge between his base in Barcelona and the countries of the south that he loved. In all the offices of PRH that I visited (Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico), the editors always ended talking about him with admiration, told anecdotes of their way of working, imitated that hoarse voice and at times unintelligible with which gave opinions and they fought to define who understood better what he said. People admired him without reservations. In these days of sadness for his departure I read many texts of authors who claim how connected he was with each of their countries. The way he loved Argentina and Mexico or that died for Chilean poetry. I think I began to love Lima and above all to love the people of my country. If we were somewhere, the first thing Claudio did was ask about the couple and the children. Then he talked about literature. I loved Mariana very much. She always told me that while I was with her, everything was going to be fine, and then I found out that she always asked if I was writing, if I did it at a good pace, if it was every day.
It is curious the difference between the vision in our countries of how literature was made in the "big corporations" and the experience of personally knowing Claudio López, the guy at the head of a publishing group of the weight of Random. For years I read absurd texts and comments about the literary world that start from a stereotyped and false image: the head of a transnational is a group of powerful people who sit in a luxury office to think about how to make "mainstream" books after to detect in an infallible way which are the winning themes and the safe ways to approach them. After that they are imposed on the authors under the unyielding yoke of deadlines and delivery dates. Nothing could be further from Claudio and the people around him, than in all these years without publishing fiction after the immense bet that the exit of Tell everything He never pressed me in any way. That last time I saw him in Barcelona he told me again what he always told me. The next novel had to have the number of pages that it had to have, even if they were a thousand or more, and it had to be published within the term required by the novel. Nobody was in a hurry. This was literature. And if one reviews his literary bets (Horacio Castellanos Moya, Samanta Schweblin, Julian Herbert, Patricio Pron or Fabián Casas) it is almost impossible to think of a publisher associated with a fixed idea of what literature is. Claudio bet stubbornly for a series of writers that he admired beyond his books sold a lot or little, if they wrote stories, short novels and long narrations. He cared about literature. When that last morning he finished telling me about Pimentel and the fantastic management he was doing in Peru, he finished his praise with a fabulous piece of information. Pimentel was a poet. And Claudio smiled repeating it several times. "And above is a poet," he said.
The afternoon before he died, Claudio posted on his Facebook wall a poem by Raúl Zurita that many people have cited these days seeing in their verses a premonition. "And then, when the big birds collapse / and the clouds tell us / that our lives were out of our fingers / keep me still in you" It will not be difficult to keep it, but it will be very hard not to count on your presence. And now that a few days have passed since his disappearance I realized how I had it installed inside me while I was writing and how hard it is for me to advance knowing that he will not read the book that I have been working all these years and that he accompanied from a distance . I know perfectly well that it is something that happens to many other writers who felt their children or their younger brothers in cities like Santiago, Montevideo or Barcelona. In that Lima in which the publishing house that he had planned and which he spoke to me that morning in his office in Barcelona was finally set up, the same thing happens. Few readers in Peru know this, but the literature of my country owes it as much as that of other countries in the vast Spanish-speaking world. We're going to miss you a lot, Claudio López. We keep you.
Jeremiah Gamboa (Lima, 1975) is the author of Tell everything (Random House Literature, 2013).