Rafael Chirbes Wins the Premio de la Crítica

The Spanish author Rafael Chirbes won the Premio de la Crítica for his latest novel En la orilla, a criticism of Spanish society and the crisis. It is a realistic novel in the vein Dickens and Benito Pérez Galdós one of Spain’s great writers of the 19th century. He is pessimistic about the world and for that the book is appealing.

En esta novela, En la orilla, como en la anterior, Crematorio, con la que también ganó el Premio de la Crítica en 2007, el autor aborda el momento de la burbuja inmobiliaria, la especulación y la corrupción política, el fraude y la resaca posterior cuando el castillo de naipes se desmorona, una resaca que ha llevado a la sociedad española a descubrir la verdadera carroña que existe cuando llega el dinero fácil, palabra que utiliza en sus dos novelas. Chirbes, poco optimista con el futuro, habla del declive de la sociedad, de la desesperación del ciudadano cuando no tiene para comer porque el paso siguiente es “el cabreo. Mucha gente cabreada sin ordenar las ideas y pasarlo por la cabeza te puede llevar a cometer locuras y eso provoca miedo. Es peligroso”.

El pesimismo de Chirbes es eco del que existe entre los jóvenes que hace una década vivían muy bien con el sueldo que ganaban y que hoy se encuentran en el umbral de la pobreza. “Es duro para alguien de 30 o 35 años que en los primeros años de este siglo tenía un buen trabajo llevando una grúa y un sueldo acorde. Y hoy se encuentre en la calle acudiendo a los comedores sociales porque no encuentra nada y tampoco se le forma para mejorar su situación. El gris que se respira en el ambiente te lleva a los años 50 del pasado siglo, a ese momento en el que las dificultades eran evidentes y no veías el futuro”, puntualiza el escritor.


La Puerta Entreabierta (The Half-Open Door) by Fernanda Kubbs aka Cristina Fernandez Cubas – A Review

La Puerta Entreabierta
(The Half-Open Door)
Fernanda Kubbs (Cristina Fernandez Cubas)
Tusquets, 2013, 221 pg
La Puerta Entreabierta (The Half-Open Door) is Cristina Fernandez Cubas’ latest book and finds her assuming a pen name, Fernanda Kubbs, to create a much more fantastical novel that celebrates famous stories of mystery while creating her own. Cubas’s work has always dealt with the fantastic, but La in Puerta Entreabierta the fantastical becomes almost the primary focus of the novel making the mysterious less an element of suspense, but exploration. Avid readers of her work, as I am, will find the book, dare I say it, a little lighter than some of her other work. Her writing style is still as good as ever and it is a pleasure to read some one of her talent write was is, for all intents and purposes, an intelligent fable.

The story follows Isa a human interest story reporter for a newspaper. She’s not particularly good and doesn’t know how to dress well either, wearing bermuda shorts to a reprimand by her boss. Her assignment is to write an article on fortune tellers. She finds a stereotypical fortuneteller dressed as gypsy and using a crystal ball. Sometime during the reading she is transported into the crystal and is trapped inside. The fortuneteller is a fraud and has no idea how she ended up in the ball. Thus begins Isa’s journey in the sphere, landing ultimately in the shop of an antiquarian dealer who on learning of her predicament tries to helper escape from the sphere.

Interspersed between Isa’s narrative are stories, told as examples, of famous frauds who fooled people with illusions and tricks. Readers of Poe might be familiar with Von Kempelen and his chess playing machine. Here, as in the other stories, she reworks the stories, playing with the legends of the frauds, both showing them as ridiculous and compelling, as if there is something in the stories that is true. It is a typical move for her, but in this book it is more playful and the stories remain what they have long been: fables.

What makes the book enjoyable are two things: the interaction between Isa and her protector; and Cubas’ ability to make what might otherwise be a light story something that shines with her strong language. Moreover, Cubas is a clever writer and her decision to leave the story open ended makes this detour into the magical quite interesting. While this will not be my favorite work of hers (hence the short review), I enjoyed it for what it is and given that it is Cubas it is much better that most books.

Mister Blue by Jacques Poulin – A Review

Mister Blue
Jacques Poulin
Trans: Sheila Fischman
Archipelago, 2011, pg 174

I’m not a cat lover. Other people’s cats are fine, but I have no need for them. And yet for some reason I keep reading Jacques Poulin novels which always seem to have a cat as some central organizing theme, if not a character. In Translation Is A Love Affair, a cat is the bridge between an author and a woman . And in Mister Blue there is something similar, although in this case, the cat is less a bridge and more symbolic of writers in general, independent spirits that don’t need to be with people all the time. In his writings cats have a weight and a currency that makes the mysterious, which along with his sparse and occasionally meditative writing style, fills his work with a tranquility and reflection that belies their simple stories.

The story of Mister Blue is fairly simple. A writer living outside of Quebec City on the Saint Laurence river finds a partially read copy of the Tales on a 1001 Nights in a cave. The mysterious reader, Marika, comes and goes on her sail boat, passing through the area unnoticed. The author passes her notes, sends his brother to meet her, and even puts a mail box on the beach, all to get the opportunity to meet her. For him, she is a mysterious reader, someone who becomes enveloped in story and yet is never seen, as unreal as story itself.

Marika is a former resident of a collective of women who live with a matronly woman helps shepard troubled women through troubled times. One such woman is La Petite a young woman not even in her twenties who begins to visit the writer. She is nosy taking pleasure in looking through his things, digging into his past, a past he wants to hide for its pain. She, too, is a mystery. Something has damaged her and the writer does not probe deeply into the past. Instead, his past becomes their shared connection as she slowly pulls out of him his divorce, his interest in living in partial isolation out side of Quebec City. It is a truly Poulinesque relationship because it is one of two damaged people who create a friendship that is sparse and quiet, filled with silences and disappearances but ultimately comes to a peaceful understanding that friendship is quiet and patient respect for one another.

La Petite was curious about everything. She turned the pages of the old album unbelievably slowly; we were advancing at the rate of two or three pages an hour, because she would put her finger on every picture and ask all kinds of questions. We were comfortably ensconced in the wicker love seat with the floral cushions at our backs, our feet on the window ledge. Her legs were stretched out, mine slightly folded: that was a minor difference. There were more important ones, such as the fact that she was sixteen or seventeen years old and I was over forty, but when my work had gone well, i was capable of forgetting certain painful aspects of reality.

The above is a typical passage from Poulin and in it there is a tranquility and innocence in it. I’ve only read two of his books, but ever time I’ve come across these encounters with between older men and younger women I think there is a subtle sexuality, a longing, but it never reveals itself. Instead, it is more of a paternal element that pervades his characters. A paternality, though, that has very little rules.

Ultimately, Mister Blue leaves many mysteries open. What is remains is Poulin’s focus: the need to connect. Without connection the mystery that is other people remains unexplored. In this Poulin has a singular approach to this that make his books disarmingly simple and more complex than they seem.

Hablar solos (Talking Alone / Talking to Ourselves) by Andrés Neuman – A Review

portada-hablar-solos_grandeHablar solos (Talking Alone / Talking to Ourselves)
Andrés Neuman
Alfagara, 2012, pg 179

Andrés Neuman is a remarkable writer who is at home writing short stories and novels. With the publication of his latest book Hablar solos, he has returned to a more intimate writing than what readers of  Traveler of the Century, published in English in 2012, might expect. At less than half the length, Hablar solos is closer in spirit to 2011’s collection of short stories Hacerse el muerto, and is composed of dialogue between three people. The three people, however, never talk to each other and in many ways do not interact with each other, instead they talk to each other as if they were writing a journal entry with all its rhetorical fluidity. I mention Hacerse el muerto because, while comic at times, returns to the theme of parental loss that he first touched on in his short quintet, Una silla para alguien. All of these elements make Hablar solos a much more personal book that shows a broad range of feeling and subjects he Neuman is willing to approach.

The three narrators are Mario, a truck driver and father of, Lito a young boy, and Elena, his wife and a professor of literature. As the book opens Mario takes Lito on a one of his deliveries in his truck, Pedro. As they drive across Spain, Mario takes Lito on a grand adventure, seeping in the cab, eating at truck stops, sleeping in hotels. It is all fascinating for the boy and everything is a big adventure. Even when strange encounters occur Lito has no idea what it really going on. Nor does he know that Mario is dying of cancer and this is their last time together. Everything they do in the truck together is tinged with sadness as Mario knows it is the last time they can do it together. While Lito’s narration is fairly matter of fact: we did this, saw that; Mario’s is a pleas for his son to remember the things they did together and understand some day what he did for Lito on that journey.

Perhaps the best example of the two voices working together is when they spend the night in a strange hotel that doesn’t even have a shower in the bathroom and Mario insists Lito not sit on the bed spread and make sure he walks everywhere with his slippers. In the hotel cafe where men and women dance, that in itself a rarity, they meet a self described magician who gives Lito a hat. Mario can’t wait to get him out of there despite Lito’s protests. He doesn’t understand why his father would do that when they were having such a good time. What Lito doesn’t know is they are in a brothel because Mario felt so sick he couldn’t continue on and stopped at the first hotel he could find. The man, Mario says, though Lito was for rent since who could believe a father would bring their son into a place like that. It is a funny and touching moment showing both the desperation of the father to have that one last experience with his son, and to protect him from what ever harm he can.

The strongest and ever present voice, though, is Elena. He narration makes up half the book and is where the real exploration of the pain of loss happens. Mario is unable to express himself very deeply. Everything goes through the family, but for Elena the coming loss is overwhelming and leads her into an affair with Mario’s cancer doctor. It is a strange relationship, almost sadomasochistic, one where the doctor fetishes the human body in all its failings. It isn’t so much a love affair as an act of denial: for her that death is coming; for the doctor that in worshiping the body, even with all its flaws, can heal those who are about to feel loss. These are the conversations Mario and Elena should be having, but the novel is called Hablar solos for a good reason: no one is willing to discuss anything and leaves Elena to wonder

Pero otras veces me pregunto: ¿Y si ese, exactamente, fuera Mario? ¿Y si, en lugar de haber perdido su esencia, ahora sólo quedase lo esencial de él? ¿Como una desilación? ¿Y si en este hospital estuvieramos malentendiendo los cuerpos de nuestors seres queridos?

But at other times I wondered: And if this really were Mario? And if instead of having lost his essence, now, only remained the essential parts of him? Like a distillation? And if in this hospital we are misunderstanding the bodies of our dear ones?

Because Mario and Elena speak by themselves they are unable to answer these questions. It makes the grief Elena feels all the greater. Yet when it is a private thing and when she is reproached for not having asked earlier for help from her friends or family she says,

Confunden SOS y SSO, lo que yo llamo Servicio Sentimental Obligatorio

They confuse the SOS and the OSS, what I call the Obligatory Sentimental Service.

It is a line that captures the novel well, the struggle between communicating and expressing one’s self. The irony of the novel is that although the characters are talking alone, they are talking ad they know they need to pass along what they have to say, they just can’t bring themselves to do it in conversation. It is as if conversation would contain their ability to express themselves.

Hablar solos is an excellent book that successfully renders three distinct voices into a conversation. Neuman’s experiment with the different voices is quite successful and even though you don’t know the whole back story to the characters (this feels like Neuman the short story writer at work, and a nice touch), you have the sense of a completion. What really made the novel so good, though, was Neuman’s way of delving into the slow loss that cancer brings. It can make the novel tough at times, but the humor, especially in the voice of Lito, doesn’t less it so much as make it easier to approach. It is a delicate balancing act that shows Neuman at the top of his game and a writer whose next work I look forward to reading.

If you are looking to read it in English, Puskin Press will be publishing it in Spring 2014.


Cristina Fernández Cubas Has Published a New Novel – La puerta entreabierta

One of my favorite short story writers, Cristina Fernández Cubas, has published a new novel called, La puerta entreabierta (The Half Open Door). It is her first work since the death of her husband several years ago, and marks a bit of a transition for her. When she was trying to write after her husband’s death she found it difficult and melancholy work. At a certain point she hit on writing with a pseudonym, Fernanda Kubbs. It is a fascinating thing to do. It isn’t uncommon, but usually using a pseudonym is to hide or create a marketing line between two different literary personalities. Here, though, it is something more. The review from El Pais sounds interesting and not too dissimilar to the short stories collected in Todos los cuentos (See my reviews here and here).

If you understand Spanish there is a good interview at Pagina 2 that I would recommend you watch.

A good overview of her recent struggles at her conceptualization of her work can be found at El Pais.

A veces para cicatrizar la herida que supone una gran pérdida necesitamos un cambio que nos distraiga del dolor. A Cristina Fernández Cubas (Arenys de Mar, 1945, Barcelona) le llevó un tiempo abordarlo. Perdió a su esposo, el escritor Carlos Trías, de un cáncer de pulmón en 2007. La pareja, entre otras complicidades, compartía la pasión por la lectura y la escritura. A medida que pasaban los días, el placer se tornó en martirio. “No podía seguir como si nada hubiera ocurrido. Todo lo que tenía a medio hacer lo mandé a la porra”, cuenta la escritora en un céntrico hotel de Barcelona, decorado en ese estilo minimalista que tanto abunda. La puerta entreabierta, su nueva novela, firmada con el seudónimo de Fernanda Kubbs, rompe un largo silencio en el terreno de la ficción e inaugura una nueva etapa en su carrera que va a mantener en paralelo con su etapa anterior.

Entre la inestabilidad que proporciona uno de esos asientos en los que te hundes, Fernández Cubas alisa su melena revuelta por el viento. De negro, de la cabeza a los pies, solo la espina de una sardina, tallada en plata, pone un destello de color en su atuendo. Habla con voz neutra de su melancolía: “Lo de leer lo solucioné pronto a base de disciplina, pero escribir me inducía a la tristeza. No podía con ello. La bola de cristal (en la que queda atrapada precisamente la protagonista de su novela) estaba allí, de manera perversa en mi cabeza; escribía en círculo y no hacía más que ahondar en la tristeza y, bueno, un poco de melancolía vale, pero no podía seguir con aquello”. La puerta entreabierta no nació como un proyecto, sino como un juego que le permitió “salir, disfrutar y gozar. De repente, surgió Isa, una joven periodista, y la magia. La magia siempre me ha gustado y fue ahí donde me di cuenta de que ese cambio de registro o de mirada me había envuelto y recuperaba las ganas de levantarme. Casi enseguida, creo que al final del primer capítulo, pensé en dos cosas: una, yo tiro para adelante, ya veremos dónde me lleva y, otra, que me llamaría Fernanda Kubbs”.

There is also a review at El Pais.

En Fernanda Kubbs está Cristina Fernández Cubas como en La puerta entreabierta están las múltiples sendas narrativas transitadas por la autora en un buen puñado de cuentos inolvidables, la aventura y actualización de un tema clásico pasado por el peculiar tamiz del sueño en la novela El año de Gracia (1985) o los recuerdos y evocaciones de las Cosas que ya no existen (2001) que acaban imponiéndose como un libro de memorias y a la vez conforman un conjunto de relatos sobre la vida de los otros: en apariencia historias sueltas, retazos de memorias, anécdotas de viaje, fotografías que se animaban de repente y, “acabada la función, regresaban a su engañosa inmovilidad de tiempo detenido”. Pero no nos confundamos. No es un totum revoltum lo que ahora nos ofrece la escritora barcelonesa sino un viaje —muy bien organizado pese a la frontera que traspasa y los múltiples territorios de la ficción por los que transita—, a través de sí misma en su faceta de impar fabuladora. Y es también un homenaje a quienes la invitaron —o enseñaron— a recorrer el territorio de la fantasía y la invención literarias: los Grimm, Andersen, Hoffmann, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Conan Doyle… y Ana María Matute.

Andrés Neuman Interviewed on Galería VIP – Spanish Only

Galería VIP, a Mexican TV show has a long interview with Andrés Neuman which is very good. I recommend it highly. He has some insightful things to say about writing, but also traveling. He wrote a non fiction book on what it is like to travel and see the world just from the perspective of hotels and airports, without really getting a good look at the culture of a country.

José María Merino & His New Book Profiled

El Pais has a brief profile of José María Merino and his newest book, El río del Edén. I only recently have been reading his short stories (see my review) and have found his work interesting. This book popped up on a lot of the Spanish best books of the year lists for 2012.

La vida de Merino siempre ha estado rodeada de palabras y sin ellas se haría difícil su existencia. “Ellas hacen lo que somos, si no nos pasaría como el gato —subido sobre la mesa el felino nos mira de reojo durante unos segundos como si entendiese que hablamos de él— que es incapaz de decir nada. Las palabras son la conciencia, el saber, el conocimiento”. ¿Se ha enfadado con ellas algunas veces? “Claro, e incluso me he enfurecido muchísimo. El problema de dedicarte a la literatura es que escribes lo que quieres decir, pero a veces, más de la que uno quisiera, se resisten. Cuando cojo mi primera novela publicada en 1976 —Novela de Andrés Choz (Novelas y Cuentos)— me doy cuenta de que el primer capítulo lo tendría que cambiar entero y cada vez que hay una nueva edición siempre hay algo que retoco. Con el tiempo vas aprendiendo. Antes de comenzar El río del Edén pensé mucho cómo debía escribir esta obra hasta que finalmente me decidí por la segunda persona. Ahora estoy satisfecho porque creo que ha sido un acierto”.

En la novela, Merino narra la historia de una pareja, Daniel y Tere y de su hijo Silvio. Lo hace a través de un viaje que realizan padre e hijo por los parajes del Alto Tajo, lugares que el matrimonio había recorrido de jóvenes. En este recorrido por la vida se agolpan los recuerdos de amor, traición y arrepentimiento. “Antes de escribir la novela mi esposa y yo realizamos un recorrido por esos parajes y en una de las jornadas nos perdimos. Fue una experiencia inolvidable hasta que descubrimos dónde habíamos dejado estacionado el coche”. Se nota que el escritor está satisfecho con esta novela hasta tal punto que confiesa con media sonrisa, a pesar de su semblante serio, “has acertado Merino. El Tajo es un río fantástico. Lleno de mitología y leyenda”.

Andrés Neuman Interviewed in Sur.es

Andrés Neuman was interviewed in Sur.es about his new book and his thoughts on writing and culture. It is an interesting interview that gives one a taste of his new novel.

-¿’Hablar solos’ nace de muchas conversaciones en soledad?

-Bueno, en realidad me atraen las historias de carretera, pero siempre han tendido a postergar al personaje femenino. Desde el principio de la narrativa, con Ulises y Penélope, hasta nuestros tiempos, las historias de viaje iniciático casi siempre han sido reductoramente masculinas. Hacía tiempo que le daba vueltas a contar una historia de carretera donde el personaje femenino pasara de secundario a protagonista. Y, por otra parte, la experiencia de haber cuidado a distintos seres queridos y haber ido viendo cómo caminaba mi idea de la vida ha sido otra de las claves. Me interesaba contar las aventuras y desventuras de quien cuida a un ser querido, ver cómo su idea del placer, del cuerpo y del amor cambian para siempre.
-¿Por cierto sentimiento de culpa?
-Claro, la culpa de estar sano cuando el otro vive y la de haber sobrevivido cuando muere. Yo siempre digo que el duelo es una especie de posguerra íntima. En todas las posguerras, quienes sobreviven a los bombardeos tienen una mezcla de fortuna por no haber caído, y de perplejidad porque han caído otros. Cuando uno está pasando un duelo parte de su dificultad no es solo la ausencia física del otro sino otros conflictos que me interesaban narrar, porque esta novela se centra sobre todo en el después: la culpa del superviviente y la batalla que emprende nuestra memoria por sanar el recuerdo de quien hemos perdido.
-Freud decía que recordar es la mejor manera de olvidar…
-Yo creo que lo decía por la parte de ficticia que tiene nuestra memoria. Él también hablaba de lo siniestro, decía que era lo próximo y lo cotidiano cuando se vuelve terrorifico. En ese sentido, la enfermedad es siniestra porque hace que todas las rutinas con un ser querido sano se vuelvan de pronto amenazantes, estremecedoras y melancólicas. Pero también hay otra cara en contraposición y es lo emocionante y profundamente poético que se vuelve todo cuando amenaza con ser la última vez; se agudiza el relieve de las cosas, todo adquiere una dimensión nueva que tiene que ver con la conciencia de la mortalidad. Por eso en la novela, al personaje de Elena se le disparan los dos índices: el del dolor y el del placer. Se aferra al placer y lo vive como pura supervivencia, como un acto de vida o muerte.

Clarice Lispector Profiled in Book Forum

Book Forum has a profile of Clarice Lispector and an overview of the latest translations:

CLARICE LISPECTOR had a diamond-hard intelligence, a visionary instinct, and a sense of humor that veered from naïf wonder to wicked comedy. She wrote novels that are fractured, cerebral, fundamentally nonnarrative (unless you count as plot a woman standing in her maid’s room gazing at a closet for nearly two hundred pages). And yet she became quite famous, a national icon of Brazil whose face adorned postage stamps. Her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart, appeared in 1943 and was an immediate and huge sensation, celebrated as the finest Portugese-language achievement yet in, as one critic put it, penetrating “the depths of the psychological complexity of the modern soul.” She struggled to get her subsequent novel published, after marrying a diplomat and moving first to Italy, then Switzerland, then Washington, DC. But her return to Brazil in 1959, after divorcing in order to give herself over to her drive to write, commenced a decade when she was at the absolute peak of Brazilian literary society, considered one of the nation’s all-time greatest novelists, and contributing a weekly column (crónica) to Rio’s leading newspaper. The Brazilian singer Cazuza read Lispector’s novel Água Viva 111 times. Lispector was translated by the poets Giuseppe Ungaretti and Elizabeth Bishop, and in Rio she was a known and recognizable celebrity. A woman once knocked on her door in Copacabana and presented her with a fresh octopus, which she then proceeded to season and cook for Lispector in her own kitchen.

An exhaustive and fascinating biographical account of Lispector’s mysterious existence,Why This World, by Benjamin Moser, was widely reviewed when it came out in 2009, and for a moment, many more people in the US had read about Clarice Lispector than had actually read her work. Now, Moser has overseen new translations of five of Lispector’s nine novels, Near to the Wild HeartThe Passion According to G. H. (1964), Água Viva(1973), The Hour of the Star (1977), and A Breath of Life (1978), which has never before appeared in English. This is a lucky moment. It’s much better to start with Lispector herself, in her own words. That said, readers who encounter the novels will likely be driven to read Moser’s biography as well, in order to know who is behind the curtain of that voice, which is so curiously personal and private, the inner voice of the quietest moment of rumination. “Could it be that what I am writing to you is beyond thought?” she writes inÁgua Viva. “Reasoning is what it is not. Whoever can stop reasoning—which is terribly difficult—let them come along with me.”

Guatemalan Writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa Profiled in El Páis

El Páis has an excellent, must read profile about the Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa (lately El Páis hasn´t seemed so must read). I hadn´t heard about him before but as someone who lived in Guatemala for a little bit his work sounds interesting. Bolaño mentioned him as an important author. A few of his books have been published in English.

Sentado en la cafetería de un hotel madrileño, Rey Rosa es a la vez parco, delicado y rotundo, como sus libros, escritos en una prosa sin materia grasa y que rara vez, es el caso, sobrepasan las 200 páginas. El suyo es un estilo sin adornos, pero no frío, en todo caso, “una enorme cámara frigorífica en donde las palabras saltan, vivas, renacidas”, según la descripción de Roberto Bolaño, que siempre señaló a su colega como uno de los grandes narradores de su generación. Títulos como Piedras encantadasCaballeriza, El material humano o Los sordos han ido pintando poco a poco el mural de contrastes de la Guatemala actual, pero Rey Rosa insiste: ni plan ni tesis. “Hay quien divide a los escritores en dos: los que tratan de explicar algo y los que tratan de explicarse algo. Yo soy de la segunda clase. No sé más que el lector al que estoy hablando. Escarbo mientras escribo”.


¿Y qué puede hacer la literatura? “En mi caso, enterarse”, responde Rey Rosa. “No creo que la literatura tenga grandes efectos, pero sí puede desatar una reflexión. Un trabajo de ficción serio puede ser un instrumento de conocimiento, no sociológico ni etnológico, simplemente humano. El hecho de tratar de explicarse las cosas ya afecta. No soy optimista y no quiero decir que sea algo bueno, pero sí que la actitud de querer entender cambia la percepción de la realidad. Sobre todo desde el punto de vista de los que somos parte del sistema queramos o no, los que estamos bien, los que vivimos… Quien más quien menos, ahí estamos todos y somos una minoría: yo, los lectores de mis libros… a ellos sí que puedo incomodarles un poco. Eso es lo único que puedo hacer. Sugerir cierta autocrítica. En estos ejercicios narrativos míos hay una especie de autocrítica como clase”. Y añade entre risas: “Pertenezco a una clase bastante desagradable. Supongo que lo que marca la diferencia es decir: pertenezco a ella, pero no me siento cómodo”.

The Diaries of Ricardo Piglia at El Pais

El Pais has an excerpt of the diaries of the Ricardo Piglia. This is the first time they have been published, although reading through them I’m not sure if I’m going to want to read more. You can also read about the origins of the diaries here.

Paso la noche internado en el Hospital de Princeton. Mientras espero el diagnóstico, sentado en la sala de guardia, veo entrar a un hombre que apenas puede moverse. Alto, ojos claros, saco negro de corderoy, camisa blanca, corbata pajarita. Le piden los datos pero él vacila, está muy desorientado, dice que no puede firmar. Es un ex alcohólico que ha tenido una recaída; pasó dos días deambulando por los bares de Trenton. Antes de derivarlo a la clínica de rehabilitación tienen que desintoxicarlo. Al rato llega su hijo, va al mostrador, completa unos formularios. El hombre al principio no lo reconoce pero por fin se levanta, le apoya a su hijo la mano en el hombro y le habla en voz baja desde muy cerca. El muchacho lo escucha como si estuviera ofendido. En la dispersión de los lenguajes típico de estos lugares, un enfermero puertorriqueño le explica a un camillero negro que el hombre ha perdido sus anteojos y no puede ver. “The old man has lost his espejuelos”, dice “and he can’t see anything”. La extraviada palabra española brilla como una luz en la noche.


Me dijo que había estado preso por estafa y me contó que su padre era vareador en el Hipódromo y que había tenido mala suerte en las carreras. A los dos días apareció de nuevo y volvió a presentarse como si nunca me hubiera visto. Sufre una imperfección indefinida que le afecta el sentido de realidad. Está perdido en un movimiento continuo que lo obliga a pensar para detener la confusión. Pensar no es recordar, se puede pensar aunque se haya perdido la memoria. (Lo vengo sabiendo por mí desde hace años: sólo recuerdo lo que está escrito en el Diario). Sin embargo, no olvida el lenguaje. Lo que necesita saber lo encuentra en la web. El conocimiento ya no pertenece a su vida. Un nuevo tipo de novela sería entonces posible, “Necesitamos un lenguaje para nuestra ignorancia”, decía Gombrowicz. Ese podría ser el epígrafe.

The Rest Is Jungle by Mario Benedetti – My Review Now Up at the Quarterly Conversation

My review of the short stories of Mario Benedetti has been published in the latest edition of the Quarterly Conversation, along with many other fine  essays. If you are interested in Latin American literature it is worth the effort to check him out.

The Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, sadly, was little translated into English during his lifetime, and most of what made it through was poetry. Perhaps this was because his fiction never quite fit the English-world model of a Latin American writer, neither writing the meta investigations of a Borges or Cortazar, nor delving into the magical realism of the Boom. Instead, his short stories were in a more realist vein, interested in urban dwellers; later, as he was marked by the turbulent history of Uruguay and its neighbor, Argentina, he reflected on the plight of the political prisoner and the exile. He was concerned with more than just 20th-century history, though, and he included in his stories moments of the fantastic and a humor that finds the foolishness in the deepest held aspirations of his characters. At his best, he combined these to draw portraits of stagnation, isolation, and the limiting power of dreams that are often funny, sometimes dark, and usually surprising.

Ana Maria Matute Wins the Cervantes Prize

Spanish author Ana Maria Matute has won the Cervantes Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in Spanish letters. She is only the third woman to win the prize and long overdue for the honor. Many of her works are available in English. Writing during the height of Franco’s reign, her works often center on children but are allegorical to life in a dictatorship. From El Pais

La nueva premio Cervantes, Ana María Matute, ha expresado su felicidad por el galardón y ha dicho que “es una especie de premio a todo lo que ha pasado durante una vida”, en referencia a su larga trayectoria literaria. La escritora, de 85 años, ha reconocido, en unas declaraciones a EFE, que lo ha celebrado “abriendo dos botellas de cava” y que seguirá escribiendo un libro que empezará en Navidad. La escritora ha confesado que no esperaba el Cervantes “ni hace años ni hace meses” pero que últimamente le empezaron a decir que su nombre sonaba. “No me lo creía del todo pero al final ha sido así y estoy muy contenta y doy saltos de alegría”.

 La ministra de Cultura, Ángeles González-Sinde, ha sido la encargada de anunciar el nombre de la ganadora del Premio Cervantes , el más prestigioso de las letras en lengua española. Hay una regla no escrita que dice que, después de que el año pasado lo recibiera el mexicano José Emilio Pacheco, este año tocaba español.

Ana María Matute tiene 85 años y no 84 como dicen buena parte de sus biografías. “Nací en 1925”, dijo recientemente a este diario. El Premio Cervantes reconoce su obra, 12 novelas y varios volúmenes de cuentos, ahora reunidos en La puerta de la Luna, desde los primeros textos de 1947 hasta 1998. “Si me dan el Cervantes daré saltos de alegría, saltos de alegría espirituales”, dijo en la entrevista. Matute, una mujer fuerte de salud frágil se apoya en una muleta para andar.

Fabio Morabito Interview

Ever since I read Emilio, los chiste y la muerte I have been trying to decide what I think of him. He still seems illusive, despite the articles I’ve read about him. The following interview makes it a little easier, but I’m still not sure. I would like to give his stories a try. This link is to the interview, and this one is to Moleskine Literario which pointed me to the interview.

LOS INSATISFECHOS. Un escritor es el que, en rigor, no sabe escribir. Nadie sabe escribir, pero un escritor es el que se da cuenta y convierte eso en un problema. El escritor norteamericano E. L. Doctorow cuenta una anécdota sobre la vez que tuvo que escribir un justificativo de la ausencia de su hijo a la escuela. Lo escribió muchas veces, porque quien es verdaderamente escritor, hasta cuando escribe algo banal se enfrenta al problema del lenguaje. No resiste un mal adjetivo, un problema sintáctico, una coma mal puesta. En cambio quien solamente redacta, no pasa por ese problema. Redacta de manera clara, comunicativa. Esa es la gran diferencia, entre ser alguien que lucha contra el lenguaje y siente una gran insatisfacción, y la redacción que simplemente sirve para fines prácticos.

PROBLEMAS. Cada vez más hay obras de escasa calidad. Pero un escritor sigue enfrentándose a los mismos problemas a los que se han enfrentado todos. Cambia el estilo, cambia la forma de comunicación, por supuesto. Pero el compromiso artístico –escribir con cierta originalidad, cavar en profundidad – eso no cambia.

AQUÍ, LATINOAMÉRICA. Cuando un libro atrapa, qué nos importa si el autor es mujer, hombre, viejo, joven, exitoso, desconocido, checo. Me considero latinoamericano porque estoy aquí, y por la lengua. A mí me dio gusto el premio a Vargas Llosa porque en muchos sentidos representa un tipo de escritura que ya ha caducado, y no todo lo que él ha escrito a mí me interesa. Me parece que si esta literatura de aspecto decimonónico se puede sostener, ¿por qué no? Una parte nuestra necesita todavía un tipo de secuencia y de narración más tradicional. No es como con otros Premios Nobel que uno se pregunta: “Caramba, ¿por qué se lo dieron a Dario Fo, un excelente actor y un escritor mediocre? Pero ojo, porque la nueva literatura, a veces puede tener los visos exteriores de mucha modernidad y los contenidos pueden ser terriblemente añejos, con imaginarios muy desfechados.

ETERNO EN SU CADENCIA. Uno tiene que saber de qué está hecho. Yo no soy Vargas Llosa ni García Márquez. Yo pertenezco a una franja numerosa de escritores que también hacen literatura seria pero que no viven de la literatura. Eso es muy importante para decir: “Bueno, ¿qué espero yo de un editor?”Un trato personal: simplemente, que no sea un gran fábrica de libros, sino donde sienta que hay respaldo y afinidad. El editor es el primer lector oficial. Yo creo que los grandes editores han sido siempre capaces de mantener eso. Sentirse en casa. Las editoriales chicas tienen la ventaja de prestarle más atención a cada escritor.

The Roberto Bolaño Syllabus at the Millions Updated With His Latest Published Books

For Bolaño fans the Millions has updated their Syllabus, really a run down of what novels are the best and which ones are reading first. I’m not sure I agree with them on some choices, but at least you have a list in one place. It looks like there will be a couple more books of his coming out too.

Though the great Roberto Bolaño fever of 2008 appears to have moderated somewhat, this year saw new Bolaño titles pop up in American bookstores with the frequency of periodicals. We’ve probably passed that point in the hype cycle – and in Bolaño’s own back catalogue – where we might look for critical consensus: in January, reviewers seemed hesitant to gainsay Monsieur Pain; by autumn, The Return was getting a decidedly mixed reception. (In between, no one except our own Emily St. John Mandel seemed to know what to do with Antwerp.) So where was a Bolañophile to turn first?

We first tried to answer this question with our original Bolaño syllabus. With the aim of offering continued guidance to newcomers and enthusiasts alike, we’ve updated it below to take into account the two most recent novels and the thirteen stories in The Return. The Insufferable Gaucho will be added shortly. We continue to feel, hype notwithstanding, that this is one of the most important authors to emerge in the last decade, and we’ll try to stay on top of the work yet to appear: an essay collection, a book of poetry, and The Sorrows of the Real Policeman (a.k.a. the “sixth part of 2666.”)

Interview With Mario Vargas Llosa on Informe Semanal (Spanish Only)

It seems like Mario Vargas Llosa is all over the place. It must be nice to win the Nobel and have a new book coming out at the same time. Latin America and Spain’s latest addition to Nobel laureates talks about his new novel The Dream of the Celt with Informe Semanal on RTVE. It is a lengthy interview (17 min) and is worth checking out if you understand Spanish.  And if you want more of Vargas Llosa in Spanish you can watch a 2006 interview at El Publico Lee.

Decir Josep Ratizger es decir Benedicto XVI. Y decir “el escribidor”, es decir Mario Vargas Llosa. Este otoño, al escritor peruano se le han acumulado las grandes noticias: la concesión del premio Nobel, del que “casi”, sólo “casi”, se había olvidado, y la publicación de la que parece destinada a convertirse en una de sus grandes novelas, “El sueño del celta”.

La llamada de la Academia Sueca le sorprendió en Nueva York, dando clases en la Universidad de Princeton. Pero estas días ha vuelto a su casa de Madrid y allí nos ha recibido: para hablar de literatura y de su compromiso personal; para contarnos los secretos de “El sueño del celta”; para mostrarnos su corazón agradecido con España por muchos, eso dice él, grandes motivos.


Mario Vargas Llosa and the Nobel – the View From Spain

As you might expect, Spanish speakers are quite excited about the award. For the Spanish, Llosa gave a special shout out, noting they have done more for him than any other country in promoting his works than any other country. And naturally, the Real Academia (the group that confers definitions on what is Spanish and not) is quite happy, since he is their fifth member to win the award.

A few comments by Vargas Llosa.

An overview. Even if you don’t read Spanish, there is a slide show of 27 photos through the ages.

A profile of his agent Carmen Balcells, who has represented some of the greatest Spanish language writers: Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, etc.

Thoughts from the director the Real Academia.

An editorial about why he deserves the prize.

And a special edition with a huge number of tributes from the likes of Antonio Muñoz Molina, Javier Cercas, Santiago Roncagliolo, and Fernando Iwasaki.

Want to Publish a Translation of a Short Story in English? Try This List

Arab Literature (in English) published this excellent list of literary journals in English that publish translations. I know that I’ve had a few readers from Spain who’d like to have their work translated in English and published here in the great isolation. It is a great start for you efforts and I hope it can be of help. I know it took quite a while to put together.

Now and then, I get a note from an emerging translator who wonders where she or he might submit a short story (or stories, or novel excerpts or poems) translated from the Arabic.

There are a few names we all—all of us in this racket, anyhow—know: Banipal, Words without Borders, and Two Lines.

However, these three are not necessarily the most accessible venues: Banipal and WWB both regularly have theme issues, and Two Lines (like WWB) is working from the entire world-language community. (However, Two Lines does publish Arabic translations, as with a lovely translation of Ibrahim al-Koni’s “Tongue,” by Elliott Colla.)

But those three aren’t the only magazines that are looking for your translated stories, novel excerpts, poems, plays, and essays.

The list below has an emphasis on magazines that allow for electronic submissions and simultaneous submissions (that means they’re okay if you send your story to several magazines at once). I have some information below, but please check it against the magazine’s submission guidelines before you send anything in.

Santiago Roncagliolo on Canal-L Kind of Explaining Why He is Being Sued (Spanish only)

In one of the stranger interviews I’ve seen in a while, Santiago Roncagliolo, one of Granta’s best young Spanish language writers evades questions on the pending law suit about his book Memorias de una dama at Canal-L. You can get a better sense of him by watching the first 10 minutes of El Publico Lee’s interview, which covers the same ground and more.

Urdu Fiction from India – Words Without Borders September 2010

Words Without Borders’ September 2010 issue features Urdu fiction from India.

This September we’re treated to the finest in new Urdu fiction from India. Curated by distinguished translator Muhammad Umar Memon, this stunning collection is the perfect primer on the fantastic and varied forms of contemporary Urdu writing. Naiyer Masud, master of the Urdu short story and Saraswati Samman award winner, follows the travails of a young runaway given refuge by a mysterious stranger. Celebrated fiction writer Qurratulain Hyder tracks the fortunes of a young woman who jettisons family and home on an intercontinental romp, with the past hot on her heels. Trailblazing feminist writer Ismat Chughtai gives an unsparing account of the goings-on in a maternity ward, while Anwar Khan’s protagonist discovers the comforting solitude of a shop window. Award-winning journalist Sajid Rashid sorts through a train explosion in a tale told by a severed head, and Siddiq Aalam listens in on two grumpy old men in a Kolkata park. Rounding out the issue, Sahitya Akademi Award winner Rajinder Singh Bedi gives a lesson in the art of erotic statuary, while Zakia Mashhadi recounts a troubled saga of marriage, love, and religion, and Salam Bin Razzack paints a picture of a Mumbai under siege.

Also this month, Askold Melnyczuk extols the virtues of speaking more than Amerikanisch, Avrom Sutzkever recites an ode to the dove, and Najem Wali describes a visit to the morgue.