Best Books of the Year In Spanish – The Lists

I was rather disappointed with El Pais. I thought it was a little predictable. Moleskine Literario has a good round up of the lists. The lists form La Vanguardia and El Cutural were particularly rich. El Cutural has the advantage that the list includes the voting from 9 different critics so you get 9 lists in 1. I will say, the list are very male author centric. The one woman writer that seems to show up regularly is La trabajadora by Elvira Navarro.

An Overview of the Work of Rafael Chirbes

Fernando Valls has an overview of the work of Rafael Chirbes in Revista Turia. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes it into English soon.

La consagración como gran escritor parece haberle llegado a Chirbes tras la publicación de sus dos últimas novelas: Crematorio (2007) y En la orilla (2013), con las que ha obtenido –entre otros- el Premio de la Crítica. La primera apuntaba a una grave crisis económica y moral que, todavía larvada, estaba a punto de estallar, mientras que la segunda no hacía más que confirmar y completar el certero diagnóstico. Antes nos había proporcionado obras de indudable valor, desde la prometedora primera novela corta, Mimoun (1988), hasta el díptico formado por otras dos piezas de semejante intensidad: La buena letra (1992) y Los disparos del cazador (1994), o la novela generacional que es Los viejos amigos (2003), aunque todas ellas posean una notable entidad. De lo que se trataba, en suma, era de dejar constancia de setenta años de historia española, de lo público y lo privado, de la educación sentimental y la política, los negocios y la intimidad, destacando una serie de hechos que gran parte de la sociedad española, encabezada por los dirigentes políticos, parecía haber olvidado. No olvidemos que para Chirbes, como para Balzac, la novela consiste en contar la vida privada de las naciones, frase que nuestro autor ha recordado en más de una ocasión[1]. Por tanto, nos hallamos ante un empeño narrativo que podría encuadrarse muy bien en la tradición de los Episodios nacionales, uno de esos grandes relatos que abarcan toda una época, a pesar de que los teóricos de la posmodernidad nos hubieran anunciado no sólo su fin sino su falta de sentido.

Rafael Chirbes nació en 1949, en Tavernes de la Valldigna, un pueblo de Valencia situado en la comarca de la Safor. La suya era una familia obrera en un mundo de calculadores campesinos, como él mismo nos ha recordado, vinculada a Denia (“el Mediterráneo de mi infancia fue el de Denia”), donde vivía el abuelo. Quizá porque su padre, peón de vías y obras, murió cuando él tenía 4 años. Su madre trabajaba de guardabarreras y tras la guerra fue depurada. En una de las entrevistas que ha concedido, confesaba que su infancia estuvo llena de miedos y pudores. Cuando Rafael contaba sólo 8 años lo enviaron a estudiar a un colegio de huérfanos de ferroviarios, primero en Ávila y luego en León, como le ocurre a Rafael del Moral, el personaje de La larga marcha. Después, estuvo interno en Salamanca, donde sus compañeros solían ser hijos de la burguesía local, rompiendo con la igualdad que imperaba en las anteriores instituciones escolares. El radical cambio de paisaje y de clima, el frío seco de Ávila y el húmedo de León, y la separación de su familia, le resultó en parte trágico pero también excitante, como él mismo ha explicado. Este temprano alejamiento supuso además un cambio de lengua, pues el castellano se convirtió en su vehículo de cultura, al margen de que la lengua familiar hubiera sido siempre el valenciano.

Best Books of the Year from El Pais

El Pais has their end of year top ten. No real surprises here this year. The better list is the top 4 by genre. In the fiction in Spanish are

1. Así empieza lo malo. Javier Marías. Alfaguara.

2. El impostor. Javier Cercas. Literatura Random House.

3. El balcón en invierno. Luis Landero. Tusquets.

4. Como la sombra que se va. Antonio Muñoz Molina. Seix Barral.

The most interesting is in the Spanish non fiction category. They list Continuación de ideas diversas by César Aira, which is an interesting choice. It is a meditation on writing in a free associative style. Caravana de recuerdos has a review.

 

Coin-Op #5: Plastic Faces – A Review

Coin-Op #5: Plastic Faces
Peter and Maria Hoey
Coin-Op Studio, 2014

Coin-Op #5: Plastic Faces is another of my Short Run comic finds. This is might be my favorite of all of the comics I bought there (I still have a few to read). It is some of the more visually adventurous in terms of story telling that I saw at the show.  What caught my eye of course his the art. He has a richly detailed style that pays special detail to textures. The images below don’t quite do justice to the details, which makes for some beautiful illustrative art. Moreover, his ability to change registers between the more comedic and the darker tributes to film noir makes each story stand out.

The other striking element of the book is the different approaches to story telling, both in terms of his construction of narrative and the visual representation of it. The first story, Au Privave (the tittle is from a Charlie Parker song) is four pages of an almost wordless story. At the top of the page floating through the panels are word bubbles that are not to related to a specific character but are akin to a chorus in the life of the Jazz musicians who populate the lower sections of the page. The images underscore a kind of loneliness that the conversation fragments point to. The story is a subtle play on the disappointing life of a Jazz musician. In the The Trials of Orson Welles he gives a graphic biography of Orson Welles, using images from his greatest films. It’s a striking portrait of the enigmatic film maker and Peter Hoey told me when I bought it that he had done extensive research to create the images. It is his longest piece in the book and the blend of film excerpts, biographic elements and the imagery makes it a stunning story. And in keeping with his different approaches to story telling, at the bottom of the Welles piece pseudo news real that describes his back lot problems with the studio. The windy parade was another of his stories that plays with comic story telling conventions. In this one, the page is part of one overall story even though the page is divided into 12 separate panel. On each of the six pages, the story within each panel evolves so that you don’t read the story panel to panel, but page to page referring to each panel in relation to the previous page. However, since the overall page is that of a parade the individual stories are not locked into a panel, but can move throughout the page. All this playfulness and inventiveness makes Coin-Op #5: Plastic Faces an amazing graphic novel.

coin_op5
Cover Image
coin_op5cc
Orson Wells Story
coin_op5bb
Jazz Piece

 

Guide to Argentine Literature at the Feria de Guadalajara from El Pais

El Pais has a guide to Argentine literature for the Feria de Guadalajara. The is plenty to read, from the famous to the up and coming. I recommend the overview article which discusses Argentina, writing as a profession and newer writers. I also recommend the list of 16 less well known writers from Argentina. Piglia and Aria are the most well known, and Schweblin has appeared on this blog several times. Hebe Uhart is untranslated, but you can read a few stories of her’s in the new A Thousand Forests in One Acorn from Open Letter which came out recently.

En torno a la generación de los 40 años han despuntado también otros escritores: Félix Bruzzone (Buenos Aires, 1976), hijo de desaparecidos víctimas de la dictadura militar que aborda de forma indirecta en sus cuentos el problema de las desapariciones; también sobresale Samanta Schwebling, quien con dos libros de cuentos publicados en 2002 y en 2009 se convirtió en la autora de la que todo el mundo hablaba hace 14 años. Ahora acaba de publicar su primera novela, Distancia de rescate (Random House). Otro nombre y otro título: Julián López y su primera novela, Una muchacha muy bella (Eterna cadencia, 2013), que relata la historia de un niño y su madre, desaparecida en los años 70. Hay muchos más autores y gran diversidad entre ellos. Pero si algo tienen en común es que casi ninguno vive de lo que publica.

A falta de ingresos por derechos de autor, los talleres son un buen recurso para pagar las facturas de luz y agua. Selva Almada, que acudió en su día al taller de Alberto Laiseca, dirige otro taller. Abelardo Castillo, uno de los escritores más consagrados, cuenta con el que quizás sea el taller más antiguo de Argentina. Y suele recibir a los alumnos advirtiéndoles que el taller no sirve para nada. En una entrevista publicada en 2008 en La Nación, Castillo comentaba:

Juan Goytisolo Wins the Cervantes Prize

The Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo has won the Cervantes Prize, the one of the most important prizes in the Spanish language, if not the most. El Pais has the coverage. El confidential has an overview of his best works. From el Pais:

“Cuando me dan un premio siempre sospecho de mí mismo. Cuando me nombran persona non grata sé que tengo razón”, decía ayer Juan Goytisolo (Barcelona, 1931) a EL PAÍS en su casa de Marrakech. Galardonado hoy con el Premio Cervantes, se refería al Premio Nacional de las Letras que le dieron en 2008 y al vaivén de su relación con Almería: “Primero me declararon persona non grata por Campos de Níjar, luego me declararon hijo predilecto en agradecimiento; y luego, persona non grata otra vez por tomar partido por los inmigrantes en El Ejido”.

Goytisolo arrastra últimamente una perforación del tímpano que le produce lo que, sin perder el humor, él llama “eyaculación auricular”. La edad, dice resignado: “Ahora los niños de mi barrio corren a besarme la mano. Cosas de anciano”. Juan Goytisolo compró esta casa, a unos pasos de la plaza de Xemaá-el-Faná, en 1981, cuando nadie quería vivir en la medina. Él había llegado a la ciudad por primera vez en 1976 para estudiar árabe dialectal y allí surgió en 1980 Makbara, una novela escrita en “verso libre narrativo” que mezcla con toda libertad voces, tiempo y espacio, escatología y erotismo.

From El confidential:

Señas de identidad (1966). La publicó en 1966 en México por la censura y llegaría a España una década después. Goytisolo siempre ha considerado esta novela como su obra más madura y supuso una ruptura con el realismo crítico de posguerra que venía cultivando para pasar a la experimentación narrativa. Señas de identidad es la primera parte de una trilogía, que luego continuarían Reivindicación del conde don Julián (México 1970, España 1976) y Juan sin tierra (1975).

Retrata una ácida visión de España protagonizada por Álvaro Mendiola, alguien que, como ha dicho el propio autor, se enfrenta al error de nacer en una época equivocada. Mendiola, el alter ego del escritor, es un exiliado en Francia por su oposición al franquismo que vuelve a reencontrarse con sus raíces cuando retorna a España. Es este intento por recuperar su pasado cuando se encuentra con un marcado desarraigo que le sirve a Goytisolo para hablar del rechazo a España, tan presente en su creación literaria, aunque lo más significativo de esta obra es la ruptura con la tradición realista y la asunción de técnicas de la novela moderna con cambios en los puntos de vista, saltos en el tiempo, el uso de la segunda persona o la mezcla de géneros.

 

Juan Marsé Profiled in El Pais

El Pais has a good profile and interview with the Spanish writer, Juan Marsé. I recently read a little of his work in Thousand Forests in One Acorn which I’ll be reviewing for the Quarterly Conversation. It is particularly pessimistic with what’s happening in Spain and reflects, in many ways, the troubles of the country. He’s an author that I think I should read some more of.

“Tal vez un primer latido, no consciente, está en la imagen de mi abuelo materno haciéndome aviones de papel con hojas de periódico; pero la primera chispa fue la fotografía de seis adolescentes judíos descalzos y desarrapados, sentados en el bordillo de una acera en el gueto de Varsovia”. Esa instantánea provocó otro latigazo en la memoria de Juan Marsé, de la primera posguerra y de cuando niño: “En la calle Camelias, cerca de donde vivía, había un centro de ayuda social donde daban un vaso de leche gratis a los críos; hasta ahí bajaban chavales de las barracas del monte Carmelo, descalzos, tiñosos, con sarna entre los dedos de las manos, y costra en sus cabezas peladas… Eran unas pandillas temibles, unos golfos, pero eran bien libres y yo les envidiaba eso”.

[…]

“Soy bastante pesimista con lo que está pasando; mi sueño es acabar una novela que esté bien; y seguro que lo que ya no sueño es en un buen gobierno para este país”. Aparece el “francotirador fronterizo, la posición idónea del escritor” que, dice, es lo único que puede ser quien es más “un simple narrador y no un intelectual que ejerce como tal”. Cataluña-España: ¿Soberanismo, confederación, independencia? “Estoy harto de eso: un servidor no es nacionalista, ni independentista, ni soberanista, ni españolista, ni catalanista, ni baturrista, ni feminista, ni ciclista, ni lampista, ni golfista, ni saxofonista… ¿Queda claro?”. Y ya más literario, se refugia en una variante de la respuesta que ofrece Stephen Dedalus en el Retrato del artista adolescente de Joyce: “Me estás hablando de nacionalidad, de soberanía, de lengua, de religión. Pues bien, estas son las redes de las que estoy intentando escapar”.

Black Sheep #3 by Fred Noland – A Review

Black Sheep #3 by Fred Noland is another comic I picked up at Short Run comix festival. I actually bought the comic from him, which was pretty typical for the the festival. In addition to his few comics he does illustrations and covers for SF Weekly, amongst others. I picked his books because I liked the art and because he said it was the best one. (He also noted that it had strippers at the end.)

This edition follows Ivan an aspiring writer and a silkscreen printer through two stages of his life, one, when he’s in his early twenties and one in this thirties. In each there he is a frustrated and easy to anger guy who surrounds himself with friends who, let’s be honest, bring this out his self pitting side. The first section is the funnier of the two, since Ivan’s friend is a mid 90’s wigger, and has the memorable line, “You know I think I liked you better as a Grunge Rocker than a wigger.” The humor that comes from a clues white guy claiming he knows African American culture is painfully funny. In the second section, the book turns a little darker as we see Ivan hasn’t advanced too far in life and spends his time with yet another friend that stresses him out. In general, spending time with American losers can bore me, especially if they spend significant time with strippers, but Ivan was interesting enough and his aspirations, no matter how blunted by his lifestyle gave him something redeeming.

Along with this book, Noland was giving out a little compendium of mugshots. The faces are comical as well as are his comments below the face. The bets one: “What’s behind this smug look? Homeboy pissed his pants while getting frisked in an attempt to destroy drug evidence. Obviously didn’t work out but he gets an “E” for effort.”

 

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.

 


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.

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.”

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.