The sixth book of poetry by Sonia Mereles Olivera, assistant professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at Sweet Briar College, deals with a subject close to her heart: a national tragedy in her home country of Paraguay.
“They Locked the Doors! Narremas of the Ycua Bolaños Tragedy” tells the story of an August 2004 supermarket fire that killed hundreds in Paraguay. Many of the victims were children, and the store’s owners ordered that the doors be locked, fearing customers would flee with merchandise they hadn’t paid for.
“This tragedy is unlike any other in Paraguayan history,” Olivera wrote. “The press coverage was too graphic through TV videos, sounds of despair on the radio tapes and newspaper pictures. Asunción is a small city — firefighters and reporters arrived very quickly to the scene. …
“The video tapes show the people from the streets trying to open the doors that were locked as soon as the fire started. … Everyone can be seen running towards the building to help. The video tapes show the first survivors yelling to denounce that the owner ordered the doors to be locked and pleading for their families, their friends, their children still inside.”
The blaze also occurred just before “National Child Day,” making the horrific event even more poignant. Olivera said her book, which is written in Spanish, attempts to “document this tragedy from the inside” and “captures a document of the voices, a testimonial to the pain of all Paraguayans.”
The book will be officially released in Paraguay on the anniversary of the tragedy.
Olivera, who writes under her maiden name, Mereles, has taught at Sweet Briar since 2007. “They Locked the Doors!” is her second book published in the past year. The first, titled “Piel de Angel,” or “Angel Skin,” deals with the pain associated with loss.