Asymptote Journal’s Latin American Issue Out Now

Asymptote Journal has put together a special feature on Latin American fiction for their July issue. Amongst this rich issue are some stand out Latin American writers. See the full contents here.

Our special feature on Latin American fiction continues this theme of rebellion, with warm tributes to Gabriel García Márquez (by his Portuguese translator), Julio Cortázar (by the great Chejfec), and Osvaldo Lamborghini (by Aira, translated by recent English PEN Award winner and Asymptote contributing editor Adrian West) appearing alongside authors translated into English for the very first time: Julián Herbert (Mexico) and Nona Fernández (Chile). Poetry opens with Waly Salomão, a jet-lagged poet from Syria and Brazil, and closes with Raúl Zurita, the Chilean poet and performance artist who wrote some of the largest poems ever using bulldozers and skywriting planes.

Beyond our striking cover, emblazoned with a polar bear and a map leaping off an iceberg, the juxtaposition of man versus animal extends into Fiction (where Zsófia Bán channels the USSR’s first dog in space and Faruk Šehić‘s terrestrial astronaut learns to read fish), Nonfiction (where Uyghur writer Patigul mimics a monkey), and even to our largest-ever Criticism section (where Guadalupe Nettel translates “animal traits to human behavior”). Throughout, guest artist Robert Zhao Renhui‘s mysterious photography highlights man’s fragile position vis-à-vis the natural world, complementing an exciting lineup that includes César Aira, Sergio Chejfec, Amit Chaudhuri, Daniel Hahn, Mary Jo Bang & Yuki Tanaka, ‘Misty poet’ Wang Xiaoni, Mui Poopoksakul‘s survey of Thai fiction, and a review of Qiu Miaojin‘s Last Words from Montmartre alongside an excerpt from a now-uncensored feminist classic from 1954, Thérèse and Isabelle, Violette Leduc‘s scandalous account of convent-girl passion (a treat if you’ve just caught Martin Provost’s “Violette” at the cinema).

The Short Story “The Final Days of Daniel Knopoff” by Pablo Besarón up at Contemporary Argentine Writers

The blog Contemporary Argentine Writers has a new short story up: “The Final Days of Daniel Knopoff” by Pablo Besarón. There is also a short bio and an interview with him in Spanish.

The morning of Thursday, February 7, 2007, was a typical summer morning. With suffocating heat settling in for the rest of the day, it was inadvisable to walk or take the subway.

Daniel backed out of the garage on his way to temple. The last week in Buenos Aires; on Sunday, he would take Katia and their three children to Mendoza. A stream with a magnificent canyon in the background, a good way to relax for two weeks after a year-long stretch of demanding work.


July Words Without Borders on Migrant Labor out now

While the World Cup still rages, Words Without Borders July issue is on Migrant Labor.

This month we present writing about migrant labor. Through official channels or underground networks, fleeing poverty or chasing dreams, the characters here leave their homelands in search of work and new lives, finding nothing is quite as they expected. Bulgarian journalist Martin Karbovski harvests cucumbers and comedy. Christos Ikonomou’s sorrowful Greeks watch their world slip away. Journalist Wang Bang interviews Chinese prostitutes in a shadowy London, and Russian graphic artist Victoria Lomasko documents modern slavery in Moscow. Taleb Alrefai learns the hidden cost of a work permit. In Paris, Wilfried N’Sondé takes the temperature of a simmering banlieue. Vladimir Vertlib sees Russia recreated in Brighton Beach. Saud Alsanousi, the winner of the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, portrays a mixed-blood Kuwaiti victimized by that country’s harsh immigration policies, while Bangladesh’s Shahaduz Zaman’s visa applicant endures medical tests and examines his own emotions. Mely Kiyak observes Turkish immigrants in Germany, and Juan Carlos Mestre mourns a worker who never returned. Elsewhere, Musharraf Ali Farooqi introduces and translates a group of Sindhi folk tales.

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War by Max Hastings

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War
Max Hastings
Knopf 2013, pg 628

Max Hastings’ history of 1914 is a magnificent account of the events leading up to World War I and the first months there after. Catastrophe is the appropriate title for the book, because in every stage of the outbreak of war the participants made so many horrendously bad decisions. It is too easy to say war is always a waste, disaster or insert your description, without understanding the full disaster that one the size of World War I was. A hundred years on there are many ideas held, if held at all, about the war that obscure the reality of what went on. Hastings is not a revisionist but he is interested in looking at the first year of the war with freshness. Of course, when discussing the start of the war the eternal question must be answered: who was responsible for the start. While Hastings suggests all sides had some blame given the alliances system. However, he squarely believes that Germany was the chief culprit in letting the war get going. Austria was a greedy bully living in its splendid imperial decay and had no business trying to control the Balkans, but Germany with the blank check given to Austria if it were to suffer a Russian attack is really the central player. He also criticizes Russia for its rush to war. Ultimately, though he points out that it may have been hard to avoid the conflict given that many of the countries involved were looking to start a war. The Austrians had an outsized view of their power and thought they could easily take on Russia. Germany was paranoid that they would soon be strangled by the growing economic power of Russia and with the growing size of the Russian rail roads they soon would be unable to fight a two front war. Hastings is also dismissive of the idea that the any one country could have avoided the war or negotiated their way out of it. The Central Powers were too tied to a militaristic stance and underestimated the ability of other countries to defend themselves. Moreover, the German plan required a quick advance into France to knock them out of the war in what is commonly referred to as the Schlieffen plan, before the Russians could mobilize. Moreover, once the armies were mobilized they were difficult to stop. On the Entie side, fast mobilization, too, was required to prevent surprise. In other words, all sides were on hair triggers and once committed, felt their was no way to stop otherwise their battle plans, ones the various armies had worked on for years, would fail. The British experience is a little different since they were not in the immediate path of invasion, but Hastings argues that Great Brittan could not let Germany become the sole power in Europe because their position would become tenuous, and given that Germany was committed to attacking their was nothing they could do. For Britain it is an ironic outcome because they believed Austria had good standing and were the victims, not the Serbs.

Hastings devotes 3/4 of the book to the actual war. Given that we are only talking about a six month period, Hastings is quite detailed in his analysis of the war. As any one who reads about the war will now, much of the combat in WWI was a disaster of old strategies and new technologies. In the opening moments of the war that was never more apparent. Amongst the great jubilation of each nation, most assuming this would be a quick war over by Christmas, millions of men were led to the front with ideas and tactics out of the 19th century. The most egregious, perhaps were the French and their red pants, but all countries went to war unaware of how destructive the new armaments had become. Yet despite technological advances in armaments, those of transportation had not matched pace and the German plan which required quick movement would ultimately fail because once the armies reached the end of their rail networks, they were on foot and at a disadvantage to the defending French who could make use of their rail lines. For Hastings, and many others, it was this single fact that made it impossible for the Germans to succeed. Not that they didn’t come close, and Hastings is critical of all the generals. Joffre’s, and France’s, commitment to attack was bad and the battle of the Frontiers, the plan to take back Alsac Lorianine, a disaster that if Joffre had not succeed in transferring armies to the west in September, he would have gone down as one of the worst generals of the war. The British were poorly led and though useful, were not particularly important. The last point is contrary to may histories and popular lore in England that says they were critical to the defense. Ultimately, what Hastings is at pains to point out is that the first months of the war were the most deadly of the war. Massive armies, often with ill trained reservists and new recruits, were launched at each other without an understanding of what the new weapons would do. The staggering loses are hard to imagine. For the British the greatest single day loss of life was in 1914, not during the Somme. Hastings defends the generals to some degree, noting that their callousness in the face of such losses is part of the role of the commander. However, there catastrophe that was the opening months was still inexcusable.

His coverage of the eastern front is as equally detailed. Though the war would always be decided on the western front, the disaster that happened on the east was just as large. The Austrian army collapsed almost completely and was no match for either the Russians or the Serbians. And if the war in the west was brutal, especially with bad training and horrendous care for the wounded and civilian populations, the east was even worse. The wounded often had little care and many of the deaths were due to wounds. The east was more savage in another way: the Austrian atrocities. They had a policy of preemptive and demonstrative executions to keep the local population under control.

Ultimately, for Hastings the Entie powers had no choice to fight the war and what they represented was a better outcome of the war. He particularly points out the German behavior in occupied zones. While no where near that of World War II it was still known for arbitrary and brutal punishment for any opposition to their rule. He notes this was partly in response to what happened in the Franco Prussian war when franco-saboteurs harassed the Germans. But in no way does it excuse the atrocities they committed. He also notes that due to the sensitization of the atrocities in propaganda it has been easy to dismiss them and say both sides were equally to blame and a victory either way would have been the same. I think most English speaking readers will agree. Catastrophe is an excellent history and one that is best at describing the pointless brutality of the opening battles.


Ana María Matute Has Died

The Spanish author, recipient of the Cervantes prize in 2010, has died. She was known for novels and short stories and was one of the representative writers of the mid century Spain. I’ve always enjoyed her work, even if she was lumped in with the social realists that are much out of favor these days. Hers were some of the first stories I read when I was mastering Spanish and making it a literary language. My favorite story of hers is from Las Historias de las Artimillas. I forget the name, but in the story a beggar forces a woman to house him by threatening to tell her husband that he has a great secret. When she finally has it with him and kicks him out he says, ok, but ask yourself what your husband is hiding if he also let me stay. A brilliant ending.

The Washington Post had a obit in English. Spanish ones below.

Ms. Matute’s novels spanning the 1940s to the 1960s depicted the devastation of rural, war-torn Spain from a child’s perspective.

Ms. Matute and other writers scarred by the 1936-1939 war — Juan Goytisolo, Ignacio Aldecoa, Carmen Martin Gaite and Carmen Laforet — were dubbed the generation of the frightened children.

“You know how horrible it is to be 11, and go from being a little middle-class girl . . . to finding yourself in a world divided, even brothers were divided. . . . Going through a war with atrocities, discovering the ugliest things in life,” she said.


From El Pais:

“Su papel fue relevante en la posguerra desde el punto de vista sociológico, por su condición de mujer que jugó un papel importante al abrirse paso en un mundo machista, y literario al reflejar la realidad a través de líneas duras y poéticas con dosis de ironía”, asegura Emili Rosales, editor de Destino.

La tercera mujer que ganó el Cervantes fue capaz como pocas, como pocos, de imbricar en su escritura las indispensables dosis de realismo con un irrenunciable hálito de lirismo. Matute llevó a las librerías novelas de la dimensión de Los Abel (1948), Pequeño teatro (1954, premio Planeta), El río (1973), Olvidado Rey Gudú (1996) y Paraíso inhabitado, su última novela. Con Primera memoria había ganado en 1959 el prestigioso Premio Nadal.

Marcada especialmente por los recuerdos de las bombas de la Guerra Civil, episodio que reflejó siempre desde la mirada infantil porque quizá nunca tuvo otra, sus problemas matrimoniales (se casó en 1952 con el escritor Eugenio de Goicoechea) marcaron tanto su vida como su obra literaria. En este segundo aspecto, la trayectoria fulgurante de una de las mejores voces de las letras españolas de postguerra, que ya llevaba consigo el bagaje del Premio Café Gijón por Fiesta al noroeste (1952), galardón al que siguieron los Premios Nacional de Literatura Miguel de Cervantes y de la Crítica por Los hijos muertos en 1959 (el mismo año en que consiguió el Nadal por Primera memoria, se frenó. No poder ver a su hijo sólo los sábados y no obtener su custodia hasta que Juan Pablo no alcanzó los 10 años después, lo marcó todo, en especial un proceso de divorcio, algo inaudito en la machista y retrógrada España de los 60. El resultado fue que tomó la decisión de irse a EEUU como lectora. Ello explica que en la Universidad de Boston esté hoy buena parte de su legado literario.

My Review of Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco is up at Three Percent

My review of Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn by is up at Three Percent.

Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means not just to write, but to create representations of ourselves. Is narrative a story, or a portrait, or both? It is a question Baricco delightfully plays with, with intriguing results that can be quite sensual.

In the title novella, a writer, Jasper Gwyn, after publishing only three novels publicly announces in the Guardian that he is never going to write another book. The reason? It “no longer suited him.” His publisher and friend try to no avail to have him change his mind. Gwyn is unwilling to go back on what he’s said and refuses to write another book. However, he is restless after his decision and feels the pull of writing. His solution is to become a copyist, a man who makes portraits. Gwyn determines he needs 30 days of observing his subject for four hours every day in the nude. His first subject is his publisher’s assistant, an overweight woman who is somewhat self-conscious. It is an encounter that starts awkwardly as each learns what it means to be the observer and the observed. Slowly, the assistant finds the experience liberating and at times erotic as she lies there with her body exposed to Gwyn, often ignoring him.

A Few Links to Some Spanish Lit in English

The amazingly productive Stu at Winston’s Dad put together a list of lists Spanish language books, translated in English. See more here

El Mundo the best 25 books from Spanish 1989 (thanks Arcadia books for link their Blind sunflowers is on the List ,plus two books by Juan Marse that Maclehose is publishing soon .

Conversational reads has another list of 20 great books from Spanish .

Scauffi has a longer list here in Spanish a lot of Marquez on this one

The telegraph has ten best Latin american novel here ,Not all Spanish but mostly

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