By Myra Saturen
August 24, 2012
What is the oldest profession? In Associate Professor of English Javier Ávila's new novel, La Profesión Más Antigua, (The Oldest Profession), the phrase acquires a double meaning as a professor at a fictional university in Puerto Rico probes corruption at his school and meaning in his life.
The psychological thriller, in Spanish, focuses on fortyish professor and writer Lorenzo Castillo at the worst period in his existence: his wife has left him, a younger colleague has replaced him as the "big man on campus" and he hasn't written in ten years. Severely depressed, he no longer gets to class on time or at all and feels psychologically dead. In addition, he is also obsessive-compulsive, weighing himself ten times a day on three different scales and cleaning his bathroom at 3:00 a.m.
In despair, Lorenzo calls the phone number on a card--the number for a prostitution service. The prostitute turns out to be Tamara, a former student of his whom he does not remember at first. Bonding as friends, the two discover corruption at the university that rises to the highest levels of administration. Disillusioned by their findings, Lorenzo and Tamara--who has her own mysterious reasons for revenge--expose and topple the university president and his cohorts. In the process, Lorenzo achieves catharsis and comes to recognize what is most meaningful to him. The novel ends on an optimistic note, with Tamara showing Lorenzo that he will write again.
Describing Lorenzo's journey, Ávila says, "In the darkness, Lorenzo sees light. It is necessary for him to hit his lowest point for him to rise up and become who he needs to be. He realizes that he has to let go of some things and do something positive."
Ávila describes the first part of La Profesión Más Antigua as a character study and the second part as a thriller. The psychological thriller genre appeals to Avila's novelistic fascination with people willfully doing things they know are wrong and hiding their actions afterward. "Exposure of the truth is blocked by resistance. But when resistance is obliterated, the truth comes out," he says. Personality imbalances and eccentricity also intrigue Ávila's literary imagination.
Why La Profesión Más Antigua as a title for Ávila's new book? Although a prostitute is the pivotal character, Ávila believes that the true oldest profession is teaching. "From day one, someone is teaching someone something," he says. "In La Profesión Más Antigua, a former student teaches a professor how to live."
Ávila's poetry appears throughout the novel, as they define, in Lorenzo's words, the stages the character experiences in life.
Javier Ávila's writing career began in the early 1990s with the publication of several books, but it was not until the release of his novel Different in 2001 that he gained critical acclaim for his work. The novel, a psychological thriller that portrays the alienation of a twenty-first-century loner in Puerto Rico's metropolitan area, topped the bestselling lists the following year and became required reading at several universities in Puerto Rico. In 2009, the film Miente, based on Different, was released worldwide. Ávila's follow-up novel, The Professor in Ruins (2006), confirmed his status in the psychological thriller genre.
While his novels have given him considerable recognition, Ávila's poetry made him one of the most acclaimed figures in Puerto Rican literature. Ávila's first poetry collection, Vidrios ocultos en la alfombra (Broken Glass under the Carpet) received the 2003 Olga Nolla Poetry Award in Puerto Rico. Two years later he became the only writer in history to receive a second Olga Nolla Poetry Award, this time for La simetría del tiempo (The Symmetry of Time). In 2006, La simetría del tiempo was awarded the Puerto Rico PEN Club Book of the Year Award. His third book of poetry, Criatura del olvido (Creature of Oblivion), was published in November 2007 and was awarded another PEN Club Award in 2008. In 2009 Ávila was honored with the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña Poetry Award for his book El papel del difunto (The Dead Man's Position). The book was published in 2010.
In addition to his book publications, Ávila has been a satirical columnist and literary critic at Puerto Rico's leading newspaper, El Nuevo Día, since 2005. He has also been a textbook writer and editor for Ediciones Santillana and La Editorial UPR.
Ávila received the prestigious 2008 Outstanding Latino Cultural Arts, Literary Arts and Publications Award given by the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education. Previous winners include Esmeralda Santiago and Alberto Ríos.
Ávila's new novel, La profesión más antigua (The Oldest Profession), was published in the summer of 2012.
Ávila is passionate about teaching and writing. "There are some things you can't retire from," he says. "It is in your blood and nothing can take it away. This is how I feel about teaching and writing. Scenes in the La Profesión Más Antigua are a tribute to teaching and students. For example, Lorenzo has a heart attack in class, and it is a student who saves him."
This fall, Ávila will be teaching creative writing, modern poetry and sections of English I.
"Teaching is an art form," he says. "You must keep practicing, finding new ways to communicate ideas. Every day, I look forward to coming to work."
Students, faculty and the public will be able to enjoy An Hour with Javier Ávila on November 12 and 12, when he will read from his work and respond to questions and answers. He will appear on November 12 from 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. in the Community Room at the Monroe Campus and on November 13 from 11:00 a.m. - noon at the David A. Reed Room, College Center 220.
Copies of La Profesión Más Antigua are available through Amazon and will be sold in the NCC bookstore.
To read excerpts from the book visit librosac.com.