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.

October Words Without Borders: New Writing from Guatemala

The new October Words Without Borders is out now, featuring new writing from Guatemala. I’m particularly excited about this since I spent several months there learning Spanish some years ago.

This month we present writing from Guatemala. With contributors ranging from the master Rodrigo Rey Rosa to the rising young Rodrigo Fuentes, the prose in this issue offers a taste of this country’s little-known literature. Parent-child relationships drive many of the narratives here, as Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s frantic father searches for his disappeared toddler, Denise Phé-Funchal’s young girl tries to win the heart of her resentful mother, and Rodrigo Fuentes’s wary adult son is drawn into his mother’s remarriage to a haunted man. Mildred Hernández reveals the violence seething just under the surface of a couple’s home and marriage. Luis de Lion’s witty narrative monkeys around with politics. Dante Liano exposes the shocking truth behind a woman’s innocent pose. Carol Zardetto’s dreamy narrator returns to Guatemala and her previous life. And David Unger, winner of this year’s Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize for Literature, finds the best way to confront his country’s history of corruption is through fiction. We thank our guest editor, WWB favorite Eduardo Halfon, for his assistance with the issue.

Elsewhere, Alice Guthrie introduces writing from Syria. Alice interviews poet Mohamed Raouf Bachir, who takes a sorrowful inventory; Zaher Omareen finds a lullaby in a story of mistaken identity and loss; and Rasha Abbas observes the onset of madness.

New Story From Contemporary Argentine Writers Tonight, a Get-Together at Home by Vicente Battista

Contemporary Argentine Writers has published a new translation, “Tonight, a Get-Together at Home”, by Vicente Battista.

He ran into him one humid November night and was on the verge of screaming. Later, whenever Alejandro Funes thought of that night, the first and perhaps best thing he remembered was that initial encounter: Barreiro in the lobby of a movie theater, alone and carefree. I always imagined I’d run into him some day, Funes had often said, and he had always thought (although this he never did say) that day would be different. It wasn’t. It was the same as any other. With the same people and the same noises; with the same summer heat, and, like other Thursdays, the same get-together at home. The same as any other night. And, nonetheless, something had to be different; he didn’t know how, exactly (he never did know how), but different. Because the man now looking over the show times, that one in the grey suit and the beige hat, is, despite wearing different clothes, the same Francisco Barreiro who years ago, between blows and sessions with the electric prod, gave orders to those who had invented his humiliation; the same man who, one afternoon, told him he was free. And called him “chicken shit.” And spit in his face. Francisco Barreiro, who appears every night (when Funes, alone, has no one to tell his heroic feats to) is now there, in the lobby of a movie theater. Funes knows what he should say: “At last, Barreiro” and walk into the lobby. But, inexplicably, or because of something that would reveal itself that very night, he remains quiet, silent. That he also remembered, later.

Juan Trejo Won the Tusquets de novela

Juan Trejo Won the Tusquets de novela, a prize given to an author of an unpublished manuscript.

Quizá en poco tiempo podrá encontrarse, ni que sea tenuemente, un hilo conductor en la dispersísima obra de los escritores en lengua castellana de hoy que van desde los treinta y muchos a los cuarenta y pocos y que pasa por una cierta búsqueda de referentes morales y espirituales en estos tiempos de desguace de valores con perfume estudiado de outlet. Y eso podría ir de punta a punta del Atlántico desde Guadalupe Nettel a Miguel Serrano Larraz, para poner ejemplos bien distantes en lo físico y lo estilístico. A esa preocupación podrá encuadrarse a lo mejor La máquina del porvenir, segunda novela del escritor Juan Trejo (Barcelona, 1970), con la que ha obtenido el décimo premio Tusquets de novela, con sus 20.000 euros.

“Hemos llegado al mundo exterior y a la fase adulta de la vida y hemos hallado más ruinas morales que respuestas concretas, hemos encontrado desgana y tristeza y nos faltan referentes morales”, ratifica Trejo (Barcelona, 1970). Esa exploración, el filólogo y profesor de literatura en Aula Escola Europea la plantea a partir de Óscar, joven que parte hacia Berlín para identificar el cadáver de una madre de la que hace años que no sabe nada; casi lo mismo que de su padre, autor argentino de exitosos libros sobre la búsqueda de la felicidad. El joven, desarraigado, que quiere saber de su familia, descubrirá que es la tercera generación de una estirpe de insatisfechos y visionarios que arranca con su abuelo, de alguna manera vinculado a una extraña cohorte de visionarios y “gente psíquica” que rodeó al zar Nicolás II para construir un artefacto que anticipase el futuro.

Publishing Perspectives on UT Revival of Classic Latin American Literature in Translation

Publishing Perspectives had an article this week on The University of Texas Press’ (UT Press) revival of their Latin American Literature in translation.

When The University of Texas Press (UT Press) started publishing Latin American Literature in translation in the 1960s there weren’t many other publishers competing for acquisitions. That had changed by the time UT Press reassessed its LiT program in 2010. They found a vibrant if small industry that was bringing important work into English and publicizing and distributing these books through traditional publishing channels.

UT Press looked back at the decades of translated books they had published, many of which had gone out of print and were no longer available except for used copies, if copies could be found at all. As part of a press-wide effort to bring back into print  hundreds of out-of-print books that UT Press had the rights to, 39 titles were reintroduced as part of the Clásicos/Clássicos Latin American Masterpieces in English Series. UT Press sponsoring editor Casey Kittrell says “Almost every title also has an ebook edition for the first time, a major effort to make these titles as accessible to readers as possible. Some ebook editions are now outselling the print versions.”

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My Review of Fear: A Novel of World War I by Gabriel Chevallier Is Up

My review of Fear: A Novel of World War I by Gabriel Chevallier is up at Three Percent.

One hundred years have passed since the start of World War I and it is difficult to believe that there are still novels, considered classics in their own countries, that have never been published in English. Perhaps it was the overwhelming number of novels in English in the years following the war that prevented their appearance. Just looking at the list of American authors, a country whose contribution was quite short, Wharton, Cather, Cummings, Faulkner, Dos Passos, and of course Hemingway with A Farewell to Arms, makes it obvious that it was a subject that once had to be written about. Still, that doesn’t explain why perhaps the most famous WWI novel is from Germany, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Maybe it was that a second even more devastating war eclipsed the first one, and pushed it into the background. It is a shame, because as Paul Fussell noted, World War I was a literary war and Gabriel Chevallier’s Fear: A Novel of World War I, ably translated by Malcolm Imrie, is a long overdue addition to that literature in English.

Gabriel Chevallier (1895-1969) was called up at the beginning of the war, wounded, and after convalescing returned to the front for the remainder of the war. Fear follows a similar trajectory: call up, wounding and hospitalization, and a return to the front. It follows a typical pattern of novels written by veterans and even echoes that of Remarque. The power that comes in front line narratives is not in the intricacies of plot, but in how they can evoke the experience of war. Chevallier is successful in his descriptions of the front lines, the constant shelling, the gruesome description of the dead, and one will come away with a sense of the terror and fear men faced. At times there is a monotony in this and it seems as if all there is to the book is moving from shell hole to shell hole. Yet it is that repetition without seeming purpose, a drama played out on an isolated stage where little context exists and the characters just survive one shelling after another, that is the real story.

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