My Letters to Conceição
by Jorge Molina del Callejo
Published in October, 2021 by Incorgnito Press
During a business trip to Cambodia, a man is given a package of letters by a mysterious woman. The letters prove to be unmailed letters written by a thirty-something American man named Vasco to his lost love, Conceição. The return addresses are from all over the world, and the narrative clearly begins as Vasco’s attempts to come to terms with his heartbreak over the long-since-ended relationship he had with Conceição. As the letters progress, Vasco begins to detail his life and travels, which took him all over the world and allowed him to meet all sorts of people, who he describes in the letters. Though Vasco is constantly searching for the person he believes is his soulmate, he is able to help other people find their path– even if it’s not the most straightforward one. But when Vasco begins to have strange dreams about a woman named Sok Meta, he starts to believe not only that she is real, but that she is his soulmate and so he embarks on a journey to find her, with only her name and the memory of a river to guide him.
The epistolary novel is nothing new in Western literature and indeed is a useful device when an author wishes to plunge a reader into the intimate details of a character’s life without having to first wade through the layers of background information that the standard novel format would provide. And so the reader is introduced, with hardly a ‘Hello, how are you?’ into the life of Vasco, an English teacher who loves to travel the world, has friends everywhere, and yet lacks a purpose. Part of this comes from his unresolved love for Conceição, the first girl he fell in love with but who left him with hardly a glance back. And part of Vasco’s rootlessness stems from a conversation he had with a mysterious woman in an airport, who declared that every person has a soulmate and that Vasco would eventually find his. Whether or not this belief is ultimately good for Vasco, or if it leads him to make questionable decisions is up for debate. But it does lead him around the world while he searches for this possible soulmate, resulting in the travelogue that weaves through the narrative– the descriptions of places and people often feel as though they’re drawn from life.
Perhaps they are. A look at the author’s biography at the back of the book reveals that Jorge Molina del Callejo has a similar background to Vasco’s: both were raised in California, did post-graduate studies in Minnesota before embarking on global travel that brought them to southeastern Asia, where much of the book takes place.
The similarities between the main character’s life and the author’s life might lead one to ask, “where does biography end and fiction begin?” Are Vasco’s friends thinly veiled (or perhaps unveiled) portrayals of people Molina del Callejo has actually met? Are all of them drawn from life? Half of them? None of them? And if even part of this story is drawn from life, what are we to make of Vasco’s dreams of Sok Meta? What, if anything, is real?
Perhaps that is the point, though it’s difficult to say for sure. The text provides few answers, but much of modern literary criticism insists that a book can be understood in light of the author’s biography. So what is one supposed to make of My Letters to Conceição, knowing that Vasco’s life strongly mirrors that of the author’s, save for (one assumes) the mystical dreams and connection between Vasco and the dream woman, Sok Meta? Is the implication that reality is not as defined as we think it is? Is there some mystical connection that binds two souls together, no matter the distance? Whatever those answers may be, the book provides few answers, serving instead as a thought experiment that touches the surface of a deeper philosophy without diving more deeply into it.
Thank you to Incorgnito Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.