Leave a comment

Ablatio Penis by Will Dinski – A Review

I picked up Ablatio Penis by Will Dinski at the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival this November. Ablatio Penis is a graphic novel published by 2D Cloud about the meteoric rise and fall of a political star. When I began reading and it was obvious what the politics of the characters were, I had the feeling that the book would head into well worn territory of conservatives with reprobate ideas getting their just deserts. If you don’t like conservatives that might be a comforting read, but it seldom makes for interesting art. I was pleasantly surprised that Dinski was able to create a story where the politician, as slick and manipulative that he is, has some decency and that decency is used against him in a way that shows he wasn’t as manipulative as it first seemed. The answer to whether he deserved what he got, is, I suppose, dependent on your politics and your sense of justice. Either way the ending was refreshing and leaves several open questions for the reader to argue.

What drew me to the book as I was thumbing through the pages in front of the woman from the publisher, was the art. First the cover of book is dazzling geometry of patriotism and catches your eye. Second, and most importantly, his approach to  drawing the panels felt fresh, light and economical. While he is capable of rich illustrations, he also draws mainly small little unbordered panels that contain just one face and a piece of text to the side, as if it was the demarcation between images. It opens up the narrative to quick cuts between scenes and disconnects the exact way time flows. It also allows for a more fluid story telling, where the text and the drawings are not constrained by the typical genre patterns, but contribute to the overall look.

All in all, this was a good find.

 


Leave a comment

Javier Cercas Interviewed About His New Book El impostor

Javier Cercas has a new book out, El impostor, that tells the story of Enric Marco who falsely claimed he’d been a concentration camp survivor. Like his last book, An Anatomy of a Moment, he is using fiction to explore what is non fiction event. El Pais had an interview with him last week.

PREGUNTA. En su libro hay varias referencias a El adversario, de Emmanuel Carrère, que también retrata la vida de un tremendo impostor y la relación con el autor de una novela de no ficción sobre él. ¿Cómo ha dialogado con este libro durante su investigación sobre Marco?

RESPUESTA. Cuando publiqué mi segunda novela, El inquilino, Sergi Pàmies me dijo: “¿Has leído El bigote, de Carrère? Tiene mucho que ver con lo que tú escribes”. Lo leí, y tenía razón. Aunque Carrère y yo escribimos cosas que en el fondo tienen poco que ver, es cierto que existe desde el principio una especie de conexión mental entre ambos. El impostor es muy distinto de El adversario. Enric Marco es el Maradona de la impostura, un crack absoluto. El protagonista de El adversario era un hombre que había engañado a poca gente, mientras que Marco engañó a todo el mundo; además, Marco es lo que somos todos, pero a lo grande. Por otro lado, hay una diferencia muy grande de concepción literaria: Carrère es un gran admirador de Capote y quiere seguir en su senda. No tengo nada que ver con esto. Mi jugada es mucho más literaria que cronística, aunque use recursos de la crónica. Yo creo que tenemos una visión un poco estrecha de la novela, fruto del triunfo avasallador de un modelo muy potente, el del XIX. Es un modelo que concibe la novela, digamos, como una ficción en prosa en la que se cuenta un drama de la forma más rápida y eficaz. Ese modelo está muy bien, ha dado frutos extraordinarios, se siguen haciendo cosas muy buenas con él; pero mi modelo no es ese; o no sólo. El mío quiere recuperar el modelo de Cervantes y de toda la narrativa anterior al XIX. Podría definirse como un cocido, o como un banquete: la virtud máxima de la novela tal y como la acuña Cervantes, o una de sus virtudes, es la pluralidad, la libertad absoluta. Puedes meter cualquier cosa en una novela. Esa es parte de la genialidad de Cervantes. Para él, la novela puede abarcarlo todo: ensayo, crónica, todo. Este libro no es una ficción, pero es una novela, igual que Anatomía de un instante. El impostor es una crónica, sin duda; es historia, por supuesto; es una biografía, es ensayo, es autobiografía. A todo eso le llamo novela, pero sin ficción. ¿Por qué no debía ser ficción? En Anatomía tardé tres años en entender que el libro no debía ser una ficción porque el golpe del 23 de febrero ya era por sí mismo una gran ficción colectiva, y escribir una ficción sobre otra ficción era redundante, literariamente irrelevante; en El impostor ya tenía la lección aprendida, y desde el principio supe que era absurdo escribir una ficción sobre la ficción ambulante que era Enric Marco. Por eso el libro debía ser una novela sin ficción.

Guadalupe Nettel Wins the Herralde de Novela Prize

The Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel won the Herralde de Novela Prize for her book Después del invierno (After Winter).  I don’t know too much about her work. I’ve only read El matrimonio de los peces rojos which I was a little disappointed with. It too was a prize winner and Marcos Giralt Torrente was one of the judges then also. Kind of odd. Nevertheless, the book won over the largest group of entrants in the history of the prize. From El Pais

Guadalupe Nettel (Ciudad de México, 1973), en el pelotón de cabeza de la nueva narrativa de su país, tiene en su credo que, visto de cerca, nadie es normal. “Me gusta enfocar lo que la gente cree anormal, lo que esconde, lo que piensa que son defectos; disfruto describiendo sus manías y obsesiones, seguramente para no sentirme así tan sola”. Por eso quizá la mejor manera de definir su última obra, Después del invierno, sea aseverando que es “un encuentro chocante entre dos neuróticos”, con la que ha obtenido el 32 premio Herralde de novela, con sus respectivos 18.000 euros, que convoca editorial Anagrama.

Claudio, cubano afincado en Nueva York y que trabaja en una editorial (“es un personaje obsesivo, con unos rituales que ejecuta inexorablemente”), y Cecilia, una estudiante mexicana residente en París (Nettel vivió más de cinco años en la capital francesa y casi 15 en Francia) van dejando traslucir sus neurosis y fobias, que se acabarán entrecruzando en París. “En la vida chocamos con otra persona y a veces nos la trastoca por completo”, fija como génesis de la novela Nettel. O sea, en perfecta sintonía con su obra narrativa anterior, en la que destacan las novelas El huésped (con la que ya quedó finalista del premio en 2005) y la más autobiográfica El cuerpo en que nací (2011). Por eso no es de extrañar que los dos narradores sean emigrantes y sientan una incomodidad existencial: “Están en un país de prestado, no pertenecen al lugar al que quizás uno quiere estar o ser”. Ni tampoco la presencia de la muerte, ambos narradores fascinados –como la autora- por los cementerios. “Sí, tengo cierta afición a ellos, quizá consecuencia de que me gusta ir a rescatar a los muertos que siempre nos acompañan y, a su modo, nos rescatan”.

From Voz Populi:

En “Después del invierno” un hombre y una mujer cuentan la historia de su vida: Claudio es cubano, vive en Nueva York y trabaja en una editorial; y Cecilia es mexicana, vive en París y es estudiante. En el pasado de él hay recuerdos de La Habana y el dolor por la pérdida de su primera novia, y en su presente, la complicada relación con Ruth; mientras que en el pasado de ella hay una adolescencia difícil, y en su presente, la amistad con Haydée, que la invita a dejar atrás sus complejos y disfrutar de la vida, y la relación con Tom, un joven de salud delicada que gusta de pasear por los cementerios. “Hace mucho que soñaba con el premio Herralde y cuando fui finalista en 2005 ya pensé que era lo máximo a lo que podía aspirar”, ha confesado Nettel en la presentación del fallo.

And some of her articles in El Pais

Words Without Borders for November 2014: Contemporary Czech Prose

The Words Without Borders for November 2014: Contemporary Czech Prose is out now.

This month we’re presenting Czech writing. Czech literature is underrepresented in translation, and its profile in English has been mainly political and largely male. The ten writers showcased here—men and women, ranging in age from thirty to seventy-four—demonstrate the richness and diversity of contemporary Czech writing. Magdaléna Platzová tells of love (and life) lost. Jan Balabán’s startled academic discovers a sister. Radka Denemarková depicts a young man with a unique obsession. In stories of families, Marek Šindelka shows a sporting outing turned deadly, and Tomáš Zmeškal tracks his estranged father in Congo; Petra Soukupová sees a family rocked by a devastating injury, and Petra Hůlová‘s Czech girl finds a “model” Communist town is anything but. Jiří Kratochvil shows a chess-playing boy realizing he’s a pawn in a terrorist cell; Jakuba Katalpa sends a German teacher to police a Czech town. And Martin Ryšavý transcribes the monologue of a theater director turned street-sweeper. We thank our guest editor, Alex Zucker, who provides an illuminating introduction as well as several translations.

Elsewhere, we celebrate the launch of our new education site, WWB Campus, with two essays on the discovery of literature. Mexico’s Valeria Luiselli recalls learning to read in an alienating Seoul, and China’s Can Xue juggles fairy tales and Marxism.

Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente – A Review

Paris
Marcos Giralt Torrente
Trans: Margaret Jull Costa
Hispabooks Publishing, 2014, pg 343

Every time I read a book from Marcos Giralt Torrente I am amazed at his mastery of language and his use of memory as a subject. His two books in English, The End of Love published in Spain in 2011 (2013 in the US) and Paris from 1999, now translated for the first time by Margaret Jull Costa, show a writer who fascinated by memory and the past. It is a fascination that he uses immense skill, exposing the overlapping layers of the past that with each memory and each deeper exploration through them, those same memories change subtly so that there is never absolute certainty in his works, but a sense that I’m close to what happened but I’ll never quite know. It takes a delicate touch to work as he does, always keeping a simple explanation at arm’s length. The shifting search through memory that marks both books is where the brilliance of his writing lays.

Paris is narrated by a middle-aged man  attempting to understand his parent’s marriage. From the start he is doubtful he will find what he is looking for:

As with everything one has not experienced directly, for me, the beginning of their relationship, albeit devoid of all symbolism, belongs to a territory that is more mythical than real. According to the idealized version my mother gave me in my childhood—which was the one destined to last and which, even now, I have no reason to doubt, because she never amended it—they met in the late 1950s in a Madrid that I imagine to have been like the dusty skin of the elephant in the old Natural History Museum but that, when my mother spoke of it, was lit by the blue of a nostalgia that consisted in equal measures of partying into the small hours and a sense of life lived at a slower pace, which had to do perhaps with the general tone of the period and, in equal measure, a complete and proper youthful disregard for time.

Even in the search for what really happened the narrator not only admits he probably won’t be able to learn everything, but there is a sense that even what he takes is true might just be suspect. The quote is also an example of a typical Giralt Torrente approach to memory, describing not just what is remembered, but how it is remembered, which is as important and always part of the story.

His father was a restless man who never really wanted to work but wanted to live the good life. He drifts from job to job until his family’s money is exhausted. A perpetual liar, he drifts into crime. What kind it is not clear to the narrator. His father was always opaque, a man who shares little but who wants to be liked so well that he told people what ever they wanted to hear, promising what he could never offer. Midway through the book the narrator notes that he and his mother would receive phone calls from people he’d met and promised something. He couldn’t help himself, he had to be liked. They learn to disabuse the callers of any hope they have that his father will deliver on what he said. The mysterious calls are just one of the strange actions of a man who comes in and out of the narrator’s life, and he like so much in the book, is left to piece together what little fragments he can remember.

Even more mysterious and the true emotional center of the book, is his mother’s relationship to his father. She holds the family together, keeping the narrator safe, insulating him from the chaos of his father’s life. When he thinks back to his childhood, his mother his heroic if a little too patient. When he has left for what seems like good, she decides to move to Paris. It is in Paris that the mystery of their three relationships becomes more complicated. She takes on behavior much like his: no fixed address, writing infrequent letters, calling out of the blue. What is it that she is doing there? Living some Parisian fantasy or is something else going on? When she decides to come home and tells him on the phone, he realizes latter that there was something strange with her life in Paris.

Taking a rather questionable approach—questionable because it sets too much store by a supposition that is in itself extremely flimsy—I would say that, for some time, she had not appeared to be responding simply to the perfectly normal, pressing need to know if I was all right, but to a more egotistical need, like when we find ourselves alone and frightened in the dark night, hemmed in and harried by all our doubts, when we can see no way out of a life we imagine we have irrevocably chosen for ourselves and we need to be in touch with someone dear to us, not so much because that person will be able to give us the impossible answer we seek, but simply in order to hear their voice, feel their affirmative presence, and have them confirm to us that we are on the right path, that they support our choice, regardless of what right or wrong decisions we have made or not yet managed to correct. As I say, I did not realize this at the rime, and I’m not even sure that’s how it was.

As he grows older and the intertwining mysteries of his mother and father continue, he finds in the two of them a duplicitous relationship that is never fully explainable, one that they don’t even understand and it leads to a confrontation with the narrator that opens and shifts the past, at once explaining and obscuring what has happened. Ultimately, it is Giralt Torrente’s brilliant analytical eye that opens these doubts and gaps into forking paths that have a life of their own, making the search for explanations more important than an actual answer. And for the narrator, if there are answers they only will be fluid, something that one shapes as one needs. More than most authors Giralt Torrente knows how to show the slippery and ever changing reality of memory.

I’ve not read Giralt Torrente in Spanish yet, an oversight I hope to remedy. It is obvious, though, that Margaret Jull Costa’s translation is well done. Given the complexity of some of the languid complexity of some of his sentences, her work should be commended.

Paris has been one of the best books I’ve read this year and should not be missed if you are interested in great writing.

I want to thank the fine people from Hispabooks Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book. It was a pleasure to read.

Rafael Chirbes Wins the Nacional de Narrativa for En la orilla

Rafael Chirbes has won the Nacional de Narrativa for  En la orilla his hugely successful book on contemporary Spain after the economic collapse. El Pais has the story.

¿El perro Tom, Liliana, el oportunista Francisco, Justino y el estafador Pedrós le tirarían a la cabeza a Rafael Chirbes el premio que le acaban de dar? Él cree que sí. Diecinueve meses después de que los trajera a este mundo, en una réplica de la España de la crisis bajo el título de En la orilla (Anagrama), la novela sigue su larga marcha de premios. Solo que este último es el Nacional de Narrativa (dotado con 20.000 euros) que le produce a Chirbes (Tavernes de Valldigna, Valencia, 1949) sensaciones encontradas. Por un lado, se siente orgulloso por tratarse de un galardón que representa la narrativa de su país; pero, por otro, confiesa por teléfono con voz tímida pero segura: “Me produce cierta desazón, porque no me gusta nada la política que se está haciendo en este país, como lo referido a los presupuestos y el poco apoyo a la Cultura”. Y, encima, sabe que sus personajes son víctimas de esa política de España. Por eso aventura un pronóstico: “Todos mis personajes me lo tirarían a la cabeza”.

Dice que el Gobierno y la política le escribieron la mitad de la novela, porque “el desastre lo han hecho ellos”, y él se ha “limitado a escribir y contar ese desastre”.

Dice que los periodistas le han preguntado si va a rechazar el premio y que si cree que con él lo van a domesticar. “¿Por qué voy a renunciar?”, les ha contestado. Lo haría si viviera en una dictadura sanguinaria, pero, aclara, que quienes le han concedido el galardón es un jurado que no conoce, al que está agradecido y que es imparcial. Y que el premio contribuye a que su novela, lo que cuenta, se conozca más. Respecto a si va a ser más manso responde: “Ya se sabrá si soy tigre o gato”.

My Photos of World War I a Century Later

I recently had the opportunity to spend six days visiting the battlefields of World War I. Since this is primarily a literary blog, I have created a separate blog of the trip with many more pictures than the ones below, plus commentary on the sites. If this is something that interests you, the blog is at worldwaroneacenturylater.wordpress.com.

Click an image to start the slide show.

%d bloggers like this: