Monday 27 September 2021

A Literary Giant Recognized

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The National Prize for Culture Magón (Premio Nacional de Cultura Magón in Spanish) is the most important literary and cultural award given by the Government of Costa Rica. It recognizes a lifelong contribution to culture by a Costa Rican citizen. It was recently announced that the 2017 award would go to the controversial author, José León Sánchez.

José León Sánchez is best known for his monumental work, La Isla de los Hombres Solos (The Island of Lonely Men, The Lonely Men’s Island). It tells the story of life in the infamous penal colony on San Lucas Island in the Gulf of Nicoya.

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Mr. León spent thirty years there as a prisoner. In an interview last year, he told me the book was neither a work of fiction nor a personal biography, but rather an intermingling of the stories of many of the men who served time there.

He was sent there—life without parole—for allegedly robbing the jewels of la Negrita, the Virgin of los Angeles, from the basilica in Cartago. During the robbery a guard was killed. He has long been known in Costa Rica—some continue to believe him guilty—as the Monster of the Basilica.

After 34 years in prison, he was found innocent by the courts and the Catholic Church has apologized to him for his wrongful incarceration.

He has written many other fine books and is especially well known for his groundbreaking work, Tenochtitlán, a novel about the conquest of the Aztecs from an Indigenous point of view. Lonely Men has recently been adapted into a very moving and well done play—performed at the National Theater and Teatro Expressivo. It was also made into a movie filmed in Mexico.

José León Sánchez is a literary giant and it is gratifying to see him finally recognized in his own country.

Mr. León lives in Heredia and, at ninety, is currently running for the Congress (Asamblea Legislativa).

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See all books by Jose Leon Sanchez available on Amazon.

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Jack Donnelly
Jack Donnelly is a writer, photographer, and speaker living in San Pablo de Heredia. His topics of interest include Costa Rican folk culture, national traditions, traditional cuisine, ecotourism, and wildlife. Donnelly is the author of COSTA RICA: Folk Culture, Traditions, and Cuisine which is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

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