Short Stories From Andres Neuman, Fernando Iwasaki, Hipólito Navarro, Clara Obligado, Patricia Esteban Erlés

For your end of summer reading pleasure: short stories from Andres Neuman, Fernando Iwasaki, Hipólito Navarro, Clara Obligado, and Patricia Esteban Erlés. These are all in Spanish and unfortunately I doubt Google translate will help. All of these links are via the publisher Paginas de Espuma.

Fernando Iwasaki in  El País titled Emmanuelle Allen: http://www.elpais.com/articulo/revista/agosto/Emmanuelle/Allen/elpepirdv/20100814elpepirdv_6/Tes

Hipólito G. Navarro (El pez volador) in Público:. http://www.publico.es/culturas/331534/vuelta/dia

In Público by Clara Obligado: http://blogs.publico.es/libre-2010/2010/08/03/el-azar-por-clara-obligado/

In El País by Andres Neuman: http://www.elpais.com/articulo/revista/agosto/pequenas/perversiones/elpepucul/20100716elpepirdv_9/Tes

In Público by Patricia Esteban Erlés: http://www.publico.es/culturas/330839/your/name/relatos/verano

Spanish Short Stories – The Forgotten Greats and the New Voices

El Pais has an excellent article on short story writers from the 20th century and beyond, with special emphasis on the forgotten during the post war and the new young writers. If you are interested in short stories the article is a must. What is fascinating from my own reading and notes of the author is the interest in playing with reality. Despite the oft cited interest in Americans like Carver, there is a definite interest in authors like Poe, Borges and Cortazar.

One could spend a year reading all these books:

Para estar al corriente de los tiempos que se avecinan, Gemma Pellicer y Fernando Valls nos proponen Siglo XXI (Menoscuarto), subtitulado Los nuevos nombres del cuento español actual. Siguiendo la pauta de un libro anterior a cargo de F. Valls y J. A. Masoliver, Los cuentos que cuentan (1998) (con el que este reciente volumen dialoga), se recoge aquí también una breve reflexión sobre el género firmada por cada uno de los autores escogidos. Sin ánimo de entrar a debatir algunas de las afirmaciones vertidas en la presentación del volumen ni matizar el tono de regusto canonizante que preside esta gavilla de relatos, sí quiero apuntar un par de cuestiones. Al margen de la fecha de publicación de los relatos aquí reunidos (todos posteriores a 2000, en efecto), a menos que admitamos que el siglo XXI empezó en 1989, aproximadamente la mitad de estos “nuevos nombres” pertenece al último tramo del XX, no sólo por haber empezado a publicar a principios de los noventa sino por su específica filiación literaria; en este sentido, faltan autores incontestables. Por eso del subtítulo me sobra el “los” y cuestiono la pretendida novedad, aunque es cierto que la nómina de autores de trayectoria más breve y reciente está más equilibrada, destacando la justa y merecida presencia de escritoras como Berta Vias Mahou, Elvira Navarro, Berta Marsé o Cristina Grande.

Esta última publica Agua quieta (Vagamundos): 36 narraciones próximas a la intensidad y el lirismo de la prosa poética, que apuntan el latido cotidiano del presente al modo diarístico (una breve escapada a Escocia o la lectura sosegada de la vida de Chéjov según Natalia Ginsburg), o se desplazan en el tiempo evocando historias de familia y los juegos y paisajes de la niñez.

Al modo de novela de formación o aprendizaje podría leerse Conozco un atajo que te llevará al infierno (e.d.a. libros), del valenciano Pepe Cervera: dieciocho estampas que atraviesan la adolescencia, juventud y primera madurez de Andrés Tangen, de las cuales en Siglo XXI se recoge la penúltima, ‘Como un hombre que sobrevuela el mar’.

Una de las autoras-revelación incluida en Siglo XXI es Patricia Esteban Erlés, que publica su tercer libro de relatos, Azul oscuro (Páginas de Espuma), cuentos de un gran despliegue imaginativo en los que la realidad o la vida cotidiana queda alterada por la irrupción de un elemento extraño, de un acontecimiento tan inesperado como incomprensible o de un comportamiento ingobernable. Algunos textos alcanzan grados de condensación casi poéticos y por lo general ocultan más de lo que dicen, con finales abiertos, tan inquietantes como sugestivos, o un cierre sorpresivo en el mejor estilo de Poe. Destacaría el que da título al libro, ‘Azul ruso’ -donde encontramos a la nueva Circe Emma Zunz, que “fue convirtiendo en gatos a todos los hombres que cruzaron la puerta del viejo edificio con aires de teatro cerrado donde vivía”- y ‘La chica del UHF’ -protagonizado por Antonio Puñales, un “técnico en pompas fúnebres” que se desvive por crear amor y belleza allí donde dominan el horror o la avaricia.

Cristina Fernandez Cubas Profiled in El Pais

El Pais has a short profile of Cristina Fernandez Cubas this week. She is an excellent short story writer, one of those I wish would be translated into English. I’m still reading her stories, but they all are excellent. You can also see what her study looks like here.

Ha escrito también novela, memorias y teatro, pero son los relatos los que han convertido a Cristina Fernández Cubas (Arenys de Mar, Barcelona, 1945) en la cuentista de cabecera de toda una legión de lectores. Si entraran en su casa les parecería que está llena de vestigios. De su biografía, por supuesto, pero también de las inquietantes historias que explica en sus libros. En la puerta de la cocina, por ejemplo, hay una pequeña pintura de un entrañable demonio con rabo, el regalo de una amiga que sabía de su afición por estos seres que sobrevolaban Parientes pobres del diablo, y en un frasquito guarda un puñado de arena del teatro de Mérida que recogió el día del estreno de la Orestiada en la versión que adaptó su marido, el fallecido escritor Carlos Trías. De su afición a la tauromaquia da cuenta un “belén eterno” en el que, en lugar de pastores ha situado dos toreros, un elefante y tres nazarenos. Al inicio ha comentado que tiene dudas razonables sobre cuál sería “su rincón” en este agradable ático del Eixample de Barcelona, con terraza a un patio de manzana en la que reinan unos tímidos cactus. “Es que mi rincón es toda la casa”, aclara. “No sólo se trabaja cuando se está escribiendo, a veces mientras me balanceo es cuando se me aparece lo que después voy a desarrollar”. Y lo demuestra sentándose en un cómodo balancín repintado varias veces al que, explica, le costó encontrar su lugar hasta que se varó en esta salita en la que lee y escucha música. “De hecho, podríamos haber hecho la foto en un tren porque lo utilizo mucho, siempre que puedo, y allí leo, me invento cosas, escribo …”.

No será por falta de estudios. Tiene dos, que utiliza de manera indistinta, pero la foto se hace en uno pequeño, junto al salón, en el que va dando forma a esa “novela llena de cuentos” de la que sólo adelanta que es un trabajo difícil de definir, que aún está en gestación. “Será un paréntesis respecto a lo que hacía ahora, pero estoy muy animada porque es algo muy creativo y extraño”. No tiene fecha -“la libertad y la falta de presión es lo más importante para escribir”- y, mientras, espera ilusionada que a principios del próximo año Tusquets, que en 2008 recopiló sus relatos en Todos los cuentos, recupere Cosas que ya no existen, las memorias que publicó hace ya casi una década. También fue una aventura, una mezcla de géneros en la que se adentra de tanto en tanto. Aunque lo suyo, reconoce, es el cuento, este género “misterioso” y “falsamente breve” que, advierte, “no se acaba con la palabra fin”.

The Millions on César Aira

The Millions has a good over view of the work of Argentine author César Aira. While he is not necessarily new to English, he is lesser known and the article reviews each of his four books. I’m not sure which one intrigues me most, perhaps Ghosts. Which ever one I choose they all sound interesting.

Ghosts shares Episode’s preoccupation with the visible world, if in a less frenzied key.  The entire action takes place over the course of a single day, New Year’s Eve, in and around a Buenos Aires construction site.  The night watchman, a Chilean immigrant, and his family live in the unfinished building as squatters.  The father, Raúl, is a good worker, but a bit of a drunkard.  His wife, Elisa, is a levelheaded housewife, “that anomaly, not nearly as rare as is often supposed: a mother immune to the terrifying fantasy of losing her children in a crowd.”  Their daughter, Patri, quiet but philosophically “frivolous,” spends the day wandering through the empty structure.  All of them see the ghosts which haunt it: portly naked men covered in fine cement dust whose members stretch like accordions.  The ghosts float between floors and sit on the satellite dishes “on which no bird would have dared to perch.”  Raúl uses them to refrigerate his wine; inserting a bottle into the ghosts’ thorax not only cools the wine, but also transmutes it into an “exquisite, matured cabernet sauvignon.”  Elisa does her best to ignore them.  But Patri is drawn to them by a strange attraction, and they to her, swarming around her head in a “luminous helix.”  Toward evening, they invite her to their midnight feast, though without mentioning the price of admission.

Between hauntings, Ghosts is filled with Aira’s beautifully precise observation of the texture of everyday life.  Most of the novel is occupied with the description of a workday, the preparations for a lunch, the problem of getting change in a grocery store, the difference between Chilean and Argentinean hair styles, laundry.  Elisa uses an inordinate amount of bleach in her washing, with the result that her family’s clothes “were so faded and had that threadbare look, humble and worn, yet beautifully so.  Even if an article of clothing was new, or brightly colored when she bought it, for the very first wash (a night-long soak in bleach) it took on the whitish, delicate and somehow aristocratic appearance that distinguished the clothes of the Viñas family.”  Viewed from this close, ordinary existence opens out to other dimensions.  Aira is a master at pivoting between the mundane and metaphysical.  In the middle of Ghosts, Patri takes a nap during the siesta and dreams of her unfinished building.  Her dream turns into a disquisition on the problem of the unbuilt in the arts, on the philosophical underpinnings of architecture in different cultures, and finally, a blueprint for Aira’s brand of literature, “an art in which the limitations of reality would be minimized, in which the made and the unmade would be indistinct, an art that would be instantaneously real, without ghosts.”

55 Year-Old Publishes First Novel After Years of Rejections

I always enjoy these stories because they are, one so American–it is never too late to start; two give one hope that eventually you may get published; and three dispense with that tired notion of the best author under x. While I may never read his book, it is a nice success story, as is that of his teacher who got her PhD at 56.

Then, a few years ago, he tagged along to a college class with his daughter Katie (who wants to be  a writer, too) and enjoyed it so much that he decided to go back to school himself, and enrolled in an MFA program at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., not far from where he lives. “I didn’t care about the degree,” he says, “but I wanted to get some feedback on my writing other than, ‘Thanks, not for us.’ ” For an assignment in a novel-writing course, a character he based on a crotchety older neighbor gradually grew into Bill Warrington, who, when he realizes he’s losing his faculties, takes his 15-year-old granddaughter on a cross-country trip he hopes will force a family reconciliation before he loses the ability to remember it.


Sometimes, he recalls, when it felt like his dream would never be any more than that, he’d think about the dear friend we had in common — our college writing teacher, Elizabeth Christman, who when she was 52 quit her day job and went back to school to get her doctorate and begin a teaching career. She died this winter, at 96, and at her funeral in St. Louis, I learned that when she’d arrived at the University of Notre Dame, she was the same age as the professor whose retirement had created the opening she was filling.

Don’t Trust the Imagination? Maybe You Don’t Have One

I was listening to Griel Marcus talk about his new book on Van Morrison (something I’ll never read) and he said he had little interest in the biographic details of an artist. He felt that there are too many people who what to explain a work by the experiences the author has had, as if that were the sum of her art. Then he quoted John Nichols who had told him, those who don’t trust the imagination, don’t have one (paraphrases all). When I heard that two thoughts came together, one revolving around those who take the biographic details as explanation, and those who, like David Shields, suggest fiction has died and there is nothing left to say. While these are two types of people the ideas they share are similar: namely, that we have exhausted or are incapable of imaginative ideas.

For the first group I’m lenient. They don’t trade in imagination and may not be accustomed to use it in the way a writer does. My favorite example was a conversation I’d had about Coleridge’s Kubla Kahan. My debating partner held that it was the laudanum that had made the poem possible, what with all of its mystical and exotic illusions. But that is a simplistic read, at best, and removes any agency from Coleridge. Moreover, it projects a fact, Laudanum, along with a myth that drug use creates fantastical experiences that translate into good writing, and rewrites his story using some stereotype from the 60s. The need to explain, and not appreciate the work for itself, creates a pat and unimaginative read that suggests no work of the imagination is really the imagination.Of course, there are plenty of cases where the writer’s work is full of the personal, but the expectation that the writer is always mirroring her own life is limiting.

On the other hand, we have David Shields whose Reality Hunger posits the decline of fiction and the modes of story telling that fiction has come to server. It is only through nonfiction can we address our world. While nonfiction is written with imagination, the idea that only nonfiction is possible is a little unimaginative. What it really suggest is David Shields is unable to imagine new stories. It is hard to write and can happen to the best of writers. Tto say that the naturalistic novel that used to be the home of social criticism has out lived its usefulness, is one thing, but to say there is no where to go suggests the same mistake my conversation partner made: fiction is just a copy of reality. The naturalistic novels may not work anymore, but that doesn’t mean game’s up. Culture is too fluid, and the novel (which is really Shields’ target) is too young, as is the mass culture we now know and has been growing for the last 150 years or so, almost following the life of the novel (as it is commonly thought of).

I don’t know what the new thing, but it will be imaginative, not just another memoir. I think Steven Moore’s book The Novel An Alternative History offers an interesting antidote to Shields. Moore who is a lover of the strange has put together a history of novels that don’t fit the naturalistic tradition. There have been many of them, as Moore tells it, starting with the Greeks and Romans and on up to Cervantes (where his current book ends). What I find intriguing about these books is they weren’t attempts to describe reality per say, but an opening of the imagination. And more importantly, they weren’t tied to a centuries long tradition. While Moore loves the strange, his book is a solid counterpoint to Shields: why does fiction have to be reality? To me, history, a form of reality, although one Shields should understand is constructed, is a great form, but it doesn’t substitute for other forms of thinking, of using the imagination.

Ultimately, it is tempting to find explanations in reality, because they make things seem approachable, manageable, even rational. However, questioning that reality, not addressing it can be just as important as digging deeper into it. Hopefully, I’ll never say the ludicrous nonsense that Henry Rollins did when I saw him once: there will never be another musical genius. He was referring to Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, but all he was really doing was admitting is that he had given up. It is a sat fate.

Mis días en Shanghai – The Writings of the Late Aura Estrada

Metapolitica (via @ezrafitz) has a beautiful review of the late Aura Estrada’s most recent book. Most of you probably don’t know who she is because she was killed while swimming on the Pacific coast of Mexico at the young age of 30. She was one of the authors in Zoetrope’s recent Latin American literature issue a while back that I really enjoyed and was interested in seeing more from, only to be shocked that she was no longer with us. Meapolitica has reviewed a collection of her unpublished work that she had been working on when she died and the review is good, if not sad. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, it is in Spanish and I fear her work will never come to English, but I offer a Google Translate for you perusal.

Pop manners, fantastic tales, told with a loose scenes prose and plain amazing detailed reliefs, reflections of an author that his teachers wanted in the way personal, sudden fictions that do not end in his few lines of length I think the main virtues that attracted me writing are, first, his prose. The writer did not give breaks or permits: each paragraph focuses at least a surprise and a reason to continue to share the observations of a witness sharp a narrator who does not waste his time nor the reader, and attacks: direct observation is smart, play seductive, mystery without falsifications “, capable of creating the need to follow the zigzag lines that prey on human experiences. The second is his sense of humor The narrative of our country dressed in black, navy blue, when the day is clearing. Aura ibargüengoitiana had a vein that would be wrong to conserve and value our letters. The author disarms social conventions, the currency of the commonplaces of life social rules, so familiar, prejudices, to introduce the thin side of our certainties: a smiling, laughing with his critical eye, the acid comments, jokes that complemented their stories illustrated, where no one goes unscathed tragicomedies This ability to lighten the solemn and bitter. His unique sense of humor.

Costumbrismo pop, relatos fantásticos, escenas sueltas narradas con una prosa de relieves sorprendentes y planicies detalladas, reflexiones de una autora que buscaba en sus maestros el camino personal, ficciones repentinas que no se agotan en sus escasas líneas de duración. Me parece que las principales virtudes con que esta escritura me sedujo son, en primer lugar, su prosa. La escritora no se daba descansos ni permisos: cada párrafo concentra al menos una sorpresa y un motivo para continuar compartiendo las observaciones de un testigo agudo, un narrador que no desperdicia su tiempo ni el del lector —y ataca: va directo a la observación inteligente, al juego seductor, al misterio sin falseos—, capaz de crear la necesidad de seguir los zigzag con que sus líneas apresan las experiencias humanas. La segunda es su sentido del humor. La narrativa de nuestro país viste de negro —de azul marino, cuando el día es claro—. Aura poseía una vena ibargüengoitiana que no le vendría mal a nuestras letras conservar y valorar. La autora desarma las convenciones sociales, la moneda corriente de los lugares comunes de la vida, las reglas sociales, lo consabido, los prejuicios, para presentarnos el lado más delgado de nuestras certidumbres: uno sonríe, se ríe con su mirada crítica, el comentario ácido, la burla ilustrada que contrapuntea sus historias, tragicomedias donde nadie sale ileso. Esa capacidad de aligerar lo solemne y lo amargo. Su sentido del humor único.

Anis Shivani’s 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Authors: Has BR Myers Been Cloned?

Anis Shivani published a piece this weekend in the Huffington Post on the most over rated contemporary American authors and considering the comments, retweets, and likes he has hit a nerve (although the internet is one big nerve so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised). He made some good points, and half his list was poetry, which is good to see since it gets so little play although I seldom read it, but like many lists it suffers from brevity and contextualessness, in other words, examples are pulled out of no where. I waiting for the examples of the good writing before I pass judgment, something the author has said is coming. He certainly is unwilling to pull his punches, although some of them are borrowed from other critics. What he keeps coming back to, though, is moral fiction. However, it isn’t quite clear what he means. Again, a positive example would help. Moral fiction so easily smacks of religious tracks, such as the Pilgrims Progress, or good-for-you works like To Kill a Mocking Bird. Sure there is Dostoevsky, but that was then when everyone was worried about morality. This is an anti-moral age, so how does moral fiction fit in there? I, of course agreed with his list of early 20th century quality (Anderson, Hemingway, Cather, Wharton, Okada), but is what I like. It still doesn’t get me to a moral fiction, what ever that is. I’m curious how My Antonia fits in there, too. For what ever his reasoning, his take downs, at least use better examples: Okada instead of Tan was one of my favorites. I didn’t agree with him on the Junot Diaz. I think he was a little to heavy handed. There is a difference between narrative voice and silly parroting of cliches, and I think Diaz avoided them.

The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat–awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation. The writing programs embody a philosophy of neutered multiculturalism/political correctness; as long as writers play by the rules (no threatening history or politics), there’s no incentive to call them out. (A politically fecund multiculturalism–very desirable in this time of xenophobia–is the farthest thing from the minds of the official arbiters: such writing would be deemed “dangerous,” and never have a chance against the mediocrities.)

The MFA writing system, with its mechanisms of circulating popularity and fashionableness, leans heavily on the easily imitable. Cloying writers like Denis Johnson, Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, Aimee Bender, and Charles D’Ambrosio are held up as models of good writing, because they’re easy enough to copy. And copied they are, in tens of thousands of stories manufactured in workshops. Others hide behind a smokescreen of unreadable inimitability–Marilynne Robinson, for example–to maintain a necessary barrier between the masses and the overlords. Since grants, awards, and residencies are controlled by the same inbreeding group, it’s difficult to see how the designated heavies can be displaced.

As for conglomerate publishing, the decision-makers wouldn’t know great literature if it hit them in the face. Their new alliance with the MFA writing system is bringing at least a minimum of readership for mediocre books, and they’re happy with that. And the mainstream reviewing establishment (which is crumbling by the minute) validates their choices with fatuous accolades, recruiting mediocre writers to blurb (review) them.

If we don’t understand bad writing, we can’t understand good writing. Bad writing is characterized by obfuscation, showboating, narcissism, lack of a moral core, and style over substance. Good writing is exactly the opposite. Bad writing draws attention to the writer himself. These writers have betrayed the legacy of modernism, not to mention postmodernism. They are uneasy with mortality. On the great issues of the day they are silent (especially when they seem to address them, like William T. Vollmann). They desire to be politically irrelevant, and they have succeeded. They are the unreadable Booth Tarkingtons, Joseph Hergesheimers, and John Herseys of our time, earnestly bringing up the rear.

I love the last sentence because it is so obscure. If it wasn’t for Hollywood’s late 30s early 40s obsession for Tarkington I’d have no idea who he was (Magnificent Ambersons, Pen Rod, Treasure of the Sierra Madre).

Get Ready to Reread Kafka: Lost Kafka Documents to Reemerge

Before the lost documents of Kafka are released and absorbed (see the Independent‘s article), I want to take a minute and think about what that actually means, or more accurately, have my Borgesian moment of rereading and recreating the texts and the man, before I have actually come across the work. Does just the existence, even if I never see these papers, make his works different? Whereas Borges posited other works or played with the existence on a book through time (Pierre Menard, for example) , for myself, I only have the idea of the work. In a gluttonously optimistic way I find myself hoping these papers with reflect on his other works. No, I don’t think they will be the let down that the recent Raymond Carver stories were, but an insistence of his brilliance. My insistence, though, is the rereading that will now color all his works for me, even if the papers turn out to be uninteresting. The excitement is doing the rereading for me. Now when I turn to his works I will always have the idea that there is something else just off page, even though I am very text centric. The desire for more is always a problem, because who Kafka is and who he will be will change, but having more of his work may not matter. Completion is rewarding to a scholar, but not always a reader.

Gioconda Belli Wins the Premio La Otra Orilla

MOLESKINE ® LITERARIO notes that Gioconda Belli has won the La Otra Orilla prize. I haven’t read her fiction, but her auto biography about her time with the Sandanistas was interesting, funny and insightful. In person she is quite interesting and I’m curious what her novels are like. It is quite the prize, too.

El éxito que tuvo la poeta y narradora nicaragüense Gioconda Belli en el Festival de la Palabra en Puerto Rico fue, para mí, inédito. Sabía de su prestigio, sabía de sus premios (de hecho, yo la presenté como Premio Seix Barral en la Feria Internacional del Libro hace unos años) pero no sabía que su carisma arrastraba multitudes en Puerto Rico. Ahora que ha ganado el premio La Otra Orilla, de la editorial Norma, me imagino que esas multitudes estarán felices.

Dice la nota:

La poeta y novelista nicaragüense Gioconda Belli fue galardonada hoy con el premio La Otra Orilla -dotado con 100.000 dólares y la publicación de su novela en toda América y España- por su libro “Crónicas de la izquierda erótica”, informaron voceros de la casa local del Grupo editorial Norma. Entre los 615 manuscritos recibidos se encontraba la obra de Belli, la primera mujer elegida para recibir este galardón, cuyo jurado estuvo integrado por los escritores Santiago Roncagliolo (Perú), Mario Mendoza (Colombia) y Pere Sureda (España). El jurado expresó que en la novela “se destaca el humorismo de su sátira política, la notable inventiva de la trama y la destreza de la autora para mantener la tensión narrativa contando una historia desde múltiples puntos de vista sin perder la sencillez”. Y agrega: “En el panorama de la novela política latinoamericana, ampliamente dominado por figuras masculinas, esta novela es una divertida e inesperada provocación”.

Peruvian Author Alfredo Bryce Echenique On His Writing and Drinking

Alfredo Bryce Echenique has published his most recent book, La esposa del rey de las curvas. It is his first book in a few years and he was in Bolivia recently talking about it and his reputation for drinking. Many of his books have been translated into English, so if you are curious you can give him a try. The following is from mexico.americaenews.com and rads as if it was run through Google Translate.

Wednesday, July 7, 6:55 PM La Paz, July 7 (EFE) .- The Peruvian writer Alfredo Bryce Echenique (Lima, 1939) said Thursday that despite his reputation as a life of “debauchery” is a writer “uncluttered” , which has led him to be able to publish over 25 books. At the opening of the VI Meeting of Latin American writers to be held in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba (center), said Bryce Echenique accompanying a reputation as “anti (Mario) Vargas Llosa, for his alleged life “bohemian, casual and untimely.” He said he recently asked “how having led a dissolute life” has been written 25 books, to which he replied that in reality is “uncluttered”. ” I’ll take my house and I will not invite or a drink to see what I ordered, “he joked to his audience. It added that it considered” that has been able to consume the largest amount of alcohol in history of humanity, the drunkest of all Latin American writers. “Peruvian writer explained that never flaunted his order because” it is easier to “live with a bad reputation. In turn, said the key to his success has been “much work, much order, discipline and a lot of silence” as you type. The author of “A World for Julius” (1970) also took the opportunity to talk about the new novel in the works, whose title is “Giving sorrow to sorrow” . Bryce Echenique explained that the name of his new book comes from a conversation he had with that was his carer as a child, “Mama Rosa”, who replied with this phrase to a phone call, more than 40 years. ” It is a very violent novel, even I got scared. (…) It is a novel about the utter decadence, crime and the subnormal family, “he said, while saying that this is a book completely antagonistic “to” A World for Julius. “Peruvian writer added that his visit to Bolivia will be a” great opportunity to catch up “literature of the country, which professed to know” nothing, very little, “if well said however, does know the history of Bolivian social reforms. The meeting of Latin American writers, who has the 2002 Metro Award winner for “The garden of my beloved” headlining, will last until Friday 9 participation will also Peruvian and Argentine Diego Trelles Juan Newfoundland. will be joined by local writers Edward Scott, Jesus Urzagasti, Manuel Vargas and Ramon Rocha Monroy. In previous editions of this meeting, held since 2000, and involved great names of Latin American literature as the Peruvian Vargas Llosa, Antonio Skarmeta Chilean, Argentine Pablo de Santis and Jorge Volpi. Average (Not Rated)

Mexican Author and Twice Hammett Prize Winner Juan Hernandez Luna Dies

I don’t read much crime fiction so I’ll probably not read Juan Hernandez Luna’s work but it sounds like he was a good writer. The Latin American Herald Tribune has the full obit.

Hernandez Luna, born in Mexico City on Aug. 19, 1962, was an “outstanding author of the noir genre,” the INBA communique said, noting that his books have been translated into French and Italian.

He won a number of awards, including the National Book of Short Stories prize in 1988, the Latin American Short Story prize in 1992, the National Science Fiction prize in 1995, and the Dashiell Hammett prize in 1997 and 2007 for the detective novels “Tabaco para el Puma” (Tobacco for the Puma) and “Cadaver de Ciudad” (City Corpse).

His published works include the biographies “Se Llamaba Emiliano” (He Was Called Emiliano) on the life of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata – written under the pen name Ivan Degollado – and “No Hay Virtud en el Servilismo” (There’s No Virtue in Servility) about the ideologue Ricardo Flores Magon.

Among his best-known novels are “Unico Territorio” (The Only Territory), “Naufragio” (Shipwreck), “Quizas Otros Labios” (Perhaps Other Lips), “Tijuana Dream”, “Yodo” (Iodine) and “Las Mentiras de la Luz” (Lies of the Light).

Ramon Eduardo Ruiz, Historian of Mexico Has Died

The great historian of Mexico, Ramon Eduardo Ruiz, has died. It has been some time since I have read his work, especially The Great Rebellion: Mexico 1905-1924 (Revolutions in the Modern World) and Triumphs and Tragedy: A History of the Mexican People. The former is an excellent account of the revolution with all its twists, characters and ultimately what it did and did not overthrow. It was a great grounding for reading authors like Carlos Fuentes, Mariano Azuela, and Martin Guzman.

The LA Times has the full obit.

In 1998, the 77-year-old American son of Mexican immigrants joined historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., biographer Stephen E. Ambrose, novelist E.L. Doctorow and five other distinguished Americans who were awarded the National Humanities Medal at a White House ceremony.

In the classroom and through his books, Ruiz told the San Diego Union-Tribune before traveling to Washington, he sought to “convey the complexity and excitement of Mexican history. I especially try to convey the great cultural richness of Mexican life and of Mexican literature.”

Christina Fernandez Cubas – Reinvigorating the Spanish Short Story

In this review
Mi hermana Elba (My Sister Elba)
Los altillos de Brumal (The Attics of Brumal)
from Todos los cuentos (All the Stories)
Tusquets, 2008

Christina Fernández Cubas is considered on of the most important Spanish short story writers since the end of the Franco era. Starting with her first book, My Sister Elba, published in 1980, she has been continually praised as important author by authors such as Enrique Villa-Matas (Spanish only) who recently said, “as everyone knows, her book My Sister Elba was decisive in the revitalization of the genre of the short story in Spain at the end of the 70s.” Her work is lauded for its inventiveness and the originality of her imagination, and a reading the relatively little she has published, bares out the praise. While it can be hard for an someone not familiar with the history of the Spanish short story to know if her impact was that great, her stories transcend any historical moment and are gems of story telling.

Cubas’ stories all fall within the genre of fantastic literature, yet in the same way that Poe, one of her favorites, is more than just spooky stories for Halloween, her works transcend genre. Often she focuses on the border lands between childhood and adulthood, creating a worlds were the impossible exists for children, and is unimaginable by adults. These dualities also intersect age and class, so that the modern, educated adult may look for rationality where there is none.

El reloj de Bagdad (The Clock from Baghdad) is probably the best example of this tension. In the story, the father of two young children brings home an antique clock one day. It is a beautiful clock with exquisite complications, yet the two old women who live in the house and have taken care of the family for years, don’t trust it. They think it is cursed. One won’t even go near it and leaves the house after years of service. The children, too, are scared of it. Yet the clock hasn’t done anything specific. The narrator, one of the now adult children, only can give us a sense of its immensity, as if that presence alone was enough to scare. When the family returns from a vacation the house is on fire and one of the few things they can save is the clock. The fire seems to confirm the curse. And when the father wants to sell it, the antique dealer refuses to take it back. Ultimately, the family moves out of town on the Day of San Juan, and the old women burn the clock in one of of the many pyres that mark the day.

The Clock from Baghdad has all the elements that mark her work. First, the story has an uncertain narrator who is always looking back into a past that is not only hazy, but a way of thinking that doesn’t exists for her anymore. Second, it is peopled with children who don’t understand the grown up world, and who make their own world, which creates a tension that is often mysterious, but can also be a possibility that is no longer possible to express. Her stories, however, do not rest on simple platitudes of the incorruptibility of children or their innate goodness. Cubas is too inventive to let her stories conclude so easily.

Mi hermana Elba, the title story of her first work, shows how she uses childhood as a distant place that has different powers, but can be as terrifying and cruel as the adult world. The narrator opens the story looking at an old note book and wondering how she wrote it. It appears as something unconnected to her. In its pages are one year of her life when when she attended at Catholic boarding school with her younger sister, Elba. It is a lonely experience at first, but then she meets an orphan from the neighboring village who lives in the school. Together they explore the off limits quarters where the nuns live. One day when a nun returns suddenly to her room, the girls hide in a corner where the nun should have seen them, but for some reason does not notice them. It is here that the orphan reveals the secret pockets throughout the school where one can hide in plain sight. They explore all of these together. Elba, though, is the best at them and often can go deep into the secret spots so that her voice sounds plaintive, lost. Then summer comes and when the orphan returns, she is no longer interested in the hiding spots and has changed her interest to boys. Elba continues with the hiding spots and the narrator often will hear her pleading for her even though she isn’t around. It is a haunting feeling and the story is at it strangest at these moments. Yet like the orphan, the narrator ages at and the next summer she is more interested in boys, finding her first boy friend amongst the kids who hang out on the beach. When a tragedy suddenly befalls Elba, the narrator is shocked to learn twenty years latter, that the only thing she could think to write in her diary is “this is the best day of my life.”

Mi hermana Elba mixes the fantastic with coming of age in away that is both haunting and disturbing. What could those spaces be? And more importantly, why is Elba disappearing into them so easily that she sounds lost? A fascicle read could make the spaces the lack of wonderment adults often have, but it is more interesting to ask, what if they existed, and latter you lost interest? Is an adulthood even in a world with such places that dulling that you would leave them to childhood? The narrator’s reaction to the tragedy, both in its callousness as a teen, and as an uncertain adult suggest even when they were at the school, Elba was lost already, as if she knew this was coming but didn’t understand it. The blending of the mysterious and coming of age makes this one of the best stories in the collection, and one that is sure to stay with someone after reading.

Los altillos de Brumal isn’t metaphysically fantastic, instead, it suggests a place that really could exist and would be terrifying. The narrator is the host of a radio show and asks people to send her samples of their homemade jam so she can put a book together. She receives and unmarked jar of a blackberry like jam and when she tastes it she is reminded of the village she lived in as a child. She can’t stop eating the jam and before she knows it she has eaten the whole jar. Inspired, she returns to the village even though her mother had said only pain comes from the village. Once there, everything seems familiar, but out of place. She meets the town priest who shows her where the jam is made in a small attic. He tells her that the woman who used to make it passed away and he sent her the jam because he wanted her to do it. What was at first a voyage into memory now becomes something dark. While her mother’s warnings were unspecific, the narrator leaves you with the impression that the village is some sort of feudal throw back, where the priest has complete power over everything. It hints at darker times in Spain’s past. The question remains, though, is the jam powerful in a Proustian sense, a magical sense, or does it even matter what has drawn her back? The genius of Cubas to give the reader just enough to puzzle with these mysteries and leave one debating if the realities of these stories are just another manner of living.

Christina Fernández Cubas’ work is taught, concise and yet mysterious. She uses the fantastic not only to intrigue, but to play with reality. These games that often seem to contain supernatural elements leave the reader wondering which reality really exists. It is the mark of her great skill that the search for explanation only leads to deeper mysteries that keep one returning to them. I still don’t know how she marked a transition in Spanish short stories, but her works definitely warrants a translation to English.

Note: You may also want to see my article on four untranslated Spanish short story writers which includes a section on Cubas.

How Not To Write a Borges Article

I shouldn’t even bother with this, but when you write about Borges in the NY Times and make it so boring, what is the point? I love Borges, though not later Borges, and can’t seem to soak up enough articles about him. Still, I want something new and interesting. The article starts out badly, telling us the inadequacies of writing about him. I should have stopped there. Since the writer obviously can’t describe his work, I don’t need to read it.

Little is quite as dull as literary worship; this essay on Borges is thus happily doomed. One finds oneself tempted toward learned-sounding inadequacies like: His work combines the elegance of mathematical proof with the emotionally profound wit of Dostoyevsky. Or: He courts paradox so primrosely, describing his Dupin-like detective character as having “reckless perspicacity” and the light in his infinite Library of Babel as being “insufficient, and unceasing.” But see, such worship is pale.

What the real problem is, though, he writes about Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Wrecker devoting time to an analysis of the book and Borges’ fascination. Sounds good. I want to hear about his sources. But, alas, he falls short and has to resort to the same generalities he was going to avoid. Borges can be difficult to write about and say something new. But it helps when you put the article into a cogent framework.

In “The False Problem of Ugolino,” an essay on Dante not included in “On Writing,” Borges quotes from an essay by Stevenson that makes the rather Borgesian claim that a book’s characters are only a string of words. “Blasphemous as this sounds to us,” Borges comments, “Achilles and Peer Gynt, Robinson Crusoe and Don Quixote, may be reduced to it.” Borges then adds: “The powerful men who ruled the earth, as well: Alexander is one string of words, Attila another.” The great deeds of the past may become no more than words, and no more than words are necessary to summon a power as grand and enduring even as Quixote or Achilles.

Among the vast books that do not really exist, and that Borges has commented on, are the innumerable pages of the future. Borges’s work answers the unanswerable weight of his reading, the boyish and the arcane at once. The pages of both what he wrote and what he only traced the shadows of present us with their own wavering interrogations; we are happy and afraid to be lost amid our insufficient and unceasing responses. Borges created his precursors, even Stevenson. We still do not know how to create Borges.

Carlos Funtes Remembers Carlos Monsiváis

El Pais has an interesting reflection from Carlos Fuentes about his friend, the late writer Carlos Monsiváis. He sounded like quite the iconoclast, at least, as Fuentes saw him. A man of diverse passions and a seeming voracious appetite for knowledge. Worth the read or Google translate.

Me inquietaba siempre la escasa atención que Carlos prestaba a sus dietas. La Coca-Cola era su combustible líquido. No probaba el alcohol. Era vegetariano. Su vestimenta era espontáneamente libre, una declaración más de la antisolemnidad que trajo a la cultura mexicana, pues México es, después de Colombia, el país latinoamericano más adicto a la formalidad en el vestir. Creo que jamás conocí una corbata de Monsiváis, salvo en los albores de nuestra amistad.

Compartimos una pasión por el cine, como si la juventud de este arte mereciera memoria, referencias y cuidados tan grandes como los clásicos más clásicos, y era cierto. La frágil película de nuestras vidas, expuesta a morir en llamaradas o presa del polvo y el olvido, era para Monsiváis un arte importantísimo, único, pues, ¿de qué otra manera, si no en el cine, iban a darnos obras de arte Chaplin y Keaton, Lang y Lubitsch, Hitchcock y Welles? Y no se crea que el “cine de arte” era el único que le interesaba a Carlos. Competía con José Luis Cuevas en su conocimiento del cine mexicano y con el historiador argentino Natalio Botana en películas de los admirables años treinta de Hollywood.

Félix J Palma’s English Debut and New Short Story Collection

Last month Spanish novelist and short story writer Félix J Palma published a new book of short stories, The Smallest Show in the World (El menor espectáculo del mundo). In it he mixes the fantastic with the comic to explore “human relations, most of all those of love, are microcosms inhabited only by those who are living it” (relaciones humanas, sobre todo las amorosas, son microcosmos habitados únicamente por los protagonistas de la historia.  Revista de Letras Spanish only.) He treats the subject with humor and his use of the fantastic sounds interesting. In one story, a character doubles every time he has to make a decision (via Spanish only) . Instead of the Garden of Forking Paths, the character becomes the path, turning the Borges classic on its head. As Palma notes in an interview at Canal-l (Spanish only) many Spanish short story authors follow one of two paths, either those of Borges, Cortizar, and other Latin American authors who tended towards the fantastic, or those of Americans like Raymond Carver. He, by his own accounting, is in the first camp. While I’m not sure if he is one of Spain’s best short story writers as the Revista de Letras article says, I am sufficiently intrigued to get a copy of his book.

For those of you who can only read English, his successful novel The Map of Time will be coming out in English sometime this year. I don’t know much about it and from the description Publisher’s Weekly gave I’m not sure if I should be afraid or hope for something interesting. Given that it got a six figure deal, I’m a little leery.

From Publisher’s Weekly

Johanna Castillo at Atria won an auction for Felix J. Palma’sThe Map of Time via Thomas Colchie, who sold North American rights for six figures (in collaboration with Palma’s principal agent, Antonia Kerrigan, on behalf of Algaida in Spain). Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, Palma’s English-language debut features three intertwined plots, in which H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate incidents of time travel and save the lives of an aristocrat in love with a murdered prostitute from the past, a woman attempting to flee the strictures of society by searching for her lover somewhere in the future and Wells’s own wife, who may have become a pawn in a plot to murder him as well as Henry James and Bram Stoker. The book was just published in Spain.

Ana María Matute at Revista de Letras (Spanish Only)

There is a good ten minute interview with the great Spanish writer Ana María Matute at Revista de Letras where she talks about her writing and her life. Of particular interest, she says she was the first to use children in fiction in Spain. Her contemporaries did not. Only after she gained success did they also do it. Considering how much she writes about children she probably is talking with some authority, although, I would like a little more confirmation. Fortunately, you can read her works in English. Many have been translated.

The video is also a lesson in what not to do when interviewing an author. While author interviews can be a little boring, the producers put such long transitions between ideas, complete with Jazz and hazy graphics, that it got a little boring waiting for her to speak.

Marta Chudolinska’s Wordless (graphic) Novel ‘Back + Forth’

I just saw this note at Book Patrol about Marta Chudolinska’s Wordless Novel Back + Forth. In the same vain as the works of early wordless novel writer Frans Masereel, she uses wood cuts without any dialog to tell the story. It looks like an interesting bit of work. You can see all the panels in one large photo here.