Young Punks of Spanish Language Fiction

El País had an article about three young authors recently. Naturally as with any article about young authours, there is the sense of we are here to over throw the past. They are not interested in Fuentes at all, in part because his 80th birthday with such fanfare. Fuentes is to these writers as Paz was to Bolaño.

Their writing sounds interesting to some degree. It is full of violence and possibly reflects a world that has seemed to get more violent recently. For the Mexican author it makes sense; the others I don’t know.

In the three [novels] in one way or another, you find violent characters. More perhaps in Busqued’s, thanks to the brutal Duarte who is an ex soldier, kidnapper, abuser, and obsessed with hardcore sex; but not less than the others. If no, there is el violent behavior of Isabel, the daughter of the protagonist of Morella’s work, a woman that has no doubts in mistreating and kidnapping her own father. Or Golo, protagonists of Maldonado’s work, the violent one, violent in its details, in its sex, in its relation with the world. Can one write these days without touching on the subject?

En las tres, de una u otra manera, se encuentran personajes violentos. Más quizás en la de Busqued, gracias al personaje brutal de Duarte, ex militar, secuestrador, abusador, obseso del sexo hardcore; pero no menos en las otras. Si no, ahí está el violento comportamiento de Isabel, la hija del protagonista de la obra de Morella, una mujer que no duda en maltratar y secuestrar a su propio padre. O Golo, absoluto protagonista en la de Maldonado, violento ena de Maldonado, violento en los detalles, en el sexo, en su relación con el mundo. ¿Se puede escribir hoy en día sin abordar el tema?

Gamal al-Ghitani Wins Zayed Book Award in Literature

Gamal al-Ghitani won the Zayed Book Award for Literature recently. I don’t know how important the award is (are any awards important?) but there is a nice list of his works. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know what the Arabic names are, not that I can speak Arabic, but it makes it a little easier to compare different lists of his books. It also makes it easier for to figure out which books of his I have read. I only see three listed that I have read:  Zayni Barakat; Pyramid texts; Naguib Mahfooz Remembers. I have also read the collection of stories A Distress Call and the novel Incidents in Zanfrani Alley, or as it is known in German, Der safranische Fluch oder Wie Impotenz die Welt verbessert, which, if you can believe Google, means Saffron curse or how the world improves impotence, certainly a more fun sounding title and one that gives you a better sense of the book. As far as I know there is also one story in the collection Sardines and Oranges and one in the Columbia Modern Arabic Fiction, both of which I’ll be reading this year. A Distress Call and Incidents in Zanfrani Alley are almost impossible to find. I’ve never found them on the Internet. Fortunately, there is a large university near by if I were to want to read them again.

For someone who is one has been called one of the great Arabic fiction writers, it is too bad more isn’t translated. But then again since so little is translated it is a wonder this many of his works have been translated. I have posted a review of  Naguib Mahfooz Remembers (published as The Mahfouz Dialogs).


  • Chronicles of a Young Man Who Lived a Thousand Years Ago
  • Al Zayni Barakat
  • Pyramid texts
  • Siege from Three Directions
  • Stranger’s Tales
  • Book of Revelations (3 vols.)
  • Midnight of Exile
  • Jungles of the Town


  • Watchmen of Eastern Gate
  • Naguib Mahfooz Remembers
  • Mustafa Ameen Remembers
  • Views of Cairo a Thousand Years Ago
  • Endowments in Cairo
  • Pigeon Fever

Tomás Eloy Martínez Interview in El País

There is an excellent interview with Tomás Eloy Martínez in El País Sunday. The interview covers his thoughts on journalism, especially new journalism, and how the Internet is changing journalism, mostly for the bad. It also covers how he got his start at a journalist—it paid more than an academic career and had better prospects. He also talks about his approach to writing La Novela de Peron and Santa Evita. For the former he wanted to use the tools of fiction to tell a true story, and in the later he wanted to use the tools of journalism to tell a completely fake story.

He says he thinks that literature should be disobedience:

If literature is not disobedient it is not literature. Literature, like journalism, at root are acts of transgression, ways of looking a little bit past your limits, past your nose. Everything I have written in my life are acts in a search for freedom. Nothing gave me more pleasure when I was publishing my first articles en La Gaceta de Tucumán than my mother would say to my sisters: “We have to go to mass to pray for the soul of Tomás who is completely lost.

“La literatura si no es desobediencia no es. La literatura, como el periodismo, son centralmente actos de transgresión, maneras de mirar un poco más allá de tus límites, de tus narices. Todo lo que he escrito en la vida son actos de búsqueda de libertad. Nada me daba más placer -cuando publicaba mis primeros artículos en La Gaceta de Tucumán- que mi madre le dijera a mis hermanas: “Tenemos que ir a misa a rezar por el alma de Tomás, que está totalmente perdida”.

About the Internet and journalism he isn’t the most hopefull.

Q. But there already has been yellow journalism.

A. It existed and it exists. What happened is that this potential multiplied the poser of the yellow journalists. Every day we see signs of this type of journalism that manifests itself en the form of an accusation. I wrote a column about the carnage that got hold of Ingrid Betancourt and Clara Rojas when they were liberated from the FARC. Serious journalists with a long career added fuel to the fire of gossip about the intimacy of the exhostages.

Q. How would the limits be established?

A. This is the basic work of editors. […]

P. Pero ya había periodismo amarillo.

R. Lo había y lo hay. Lo que pasa es que esto potencia, multiplica, la fuerza del periodista amarillo. Todos los días vemos señales de este tipo de periodismo que se manifiesta en forma de acusación. Escribí una columna sobre la carnicería que se hizo con Ingrid Betancourt y con Clara Rojas cuando fueron liberadas por las FARC. Periodistas muy serios, con una larga trayectoria, añadieron leña al fuego de los chismes sobre la intimidad de las ex rehenes.

P. ¿Cómo tendrían que establecerse los límites?

R. Este es un trabajo básico de los editores. […]

Scenes from Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s From A Drifting Life

Words Without Borders has a short section from the Manga master Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s new book From A Drifting Life, which is forthcoming from Drawn and Quarterly. As usual, Tatsumi mixes a bit of manga history with everyday life in Japan after the war. Even if you don’t read graphic novels, it is interesting.

Waltz With Bashir at Words Without Borders

Words Without borders is featuring graphic novels this month and included in collection are several pages from the graphic novel of Waltz With Bashir. The pages capture the same fearfulness as the film and are a good taste if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

They also include an interview with David Polonsky, the artist behind the film. Of particular interest to me were so of his stylisic choices.

“The script said there were flares over the camp,” said Polonsky. “I remembered the flares from Haifa, where I grew up. The navy would always hold maneuvers, and they would shoot up these flares into the sky that painted the whole town dark orange. So this was my starting point, this memory. I later developed it into a motif, with the same orange flame appearing in the eyes of the mad dogs and in the sky. Then, in the end, when the flares burst out and take over everything in Sabra and Shatila, it’s like a repressed memory of violence erupting and burning everything underneath the sky.”

Tribute to El Caso – Spain’s Crime Paper

El País has an interesting article about El Caso, a trashy crime tabloid from the Franco period. It is not the material they covered that is so unique, but how popular it was within Spain and how it carved out a space for the salacious in the Catholic Dictatorship.

The film director Pere Costa, one of the editors of El Caso, explained how at the hands of Eugenio Suárez its inclusion as a section of the daily Marid came to an end, and became a weekly “with the condition to no publish more than one Spanish assassination a week.” The 12,000 issues of its first run grew to 100’s of thousands, and its readership was even greater because it was normal for it to be read out loud to a group.

El director de cine Pere Costa, uno de los redactores de El Caso, explicó como de sección fija del diario Madrid pasó, de la mano de Eugenio Suárez, a semanario “con la condición de no publicar más de un asesinato español por semana”. Los 12.000 ejemplares semanales del primer número fueron creciendo a cientos de miles, aunque su audiencia fue mucho mayor, pues era normal que se leyera en voz alta y en grupo.

It is worth a read if you are interested in crime fiction.

Wolf Totem Becomes Management Handbook

Bruce Humes notes that the Chinese novel Wolf Totem, has spawned a wave of management books extolling the virtues of wolf-think.

[…] the idea that Chinese people ought to “discard their submissive character and assume a more aggressive, or wolf-like, outlook on life and the world at large” (Poon’s words) has caught on like wild-fire in certain circles in China: Featured at business forums, a popular new year’s present for military types — and an inspiration to China’s business publishers.

It is always fascinating what bit of culture can inspire the latest bit of management nonsense.

Chinese Muslim’s Pilgrimage to al-Andalus – Synopsis Posted

Bruce Hume posted his synopsis of a Chinese Muslim’s Pilgrimage to al-Andalus. Well worth the read if you are interested in Spanish culture. It is also interesting to see how someone from China manifests their hispanofilism.

Written over several years and six visits to al-Andalus (Morocco, Portugal and southern Spain),  we see how Zhang Cheng-Zhi discovers the links between the Moors and China, from the Uighurs in Xinjiang to the port of Quanzhou in Fujian, to the prevalence of fig trees in China’s northwest. Increasingly fascinated by the spirit of the Muslim conquerors, their irrigation technology, and the olive trees so prevalent in southern Spain, he actually tries to transplant them to northwest China. His experiment fails, but his clumsy efforts to somehow grow the olive in China, a fruit rendered sacred by its mention in an oft-repeated Koranic verse (see Chapter 17, below), is an almost desperate attempt to bring part of his beloved al-Andalus back home.

New Issue of Under Hwy 99 Out Now

The new issue of Under Hwy 99 is out now. Isses 1.2 features my short non-fiction, Just a Handshake Is Enough,  about the time I met Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in Mexico City. There are also short fictions from Evan Cleveland, Danny Brophy, Billie Louise Jones, Tara Brichetto, Ellie Keller, and Jim Bellarosa. It is worth the checking out this young literary magazine.

I also rebuilt the website which makes it much easier to read and use.

Best Sellers in China 2008

Paper Republic pointed me to Bruce Hume’s list of Chinese best sellers. Most are not in English and won’t make much of an impression. There are some interesting books that sound a little odd.

The Tibet Code (4)—He Ma: Latest volume in long-winded tale of mysterious Tibet which begins with sighting of rare Tibetan mastiff. All four volumes best sellers.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being was number 25 this year, too.

Chinese Muslim’s Pilgrimage to Al-Andalus

Bruce Hume’s blog on Chinese writing notes a new book in China that sounds interesting. He is giving out English synopsis if you email him.

Zhang Cheng-Zhi (张承志), the white-hot Red Guard who mastered Mongolian and Japanese — and then converted to Islam — has just launched En las Ruinas de la Flor: Viajes por Al-Andalus (鲜花的废墟). His new Chinese-language travelogue takes us throughout Moorish Spain, Portugal and Morocco in search of the spirit of Islam in its golden age (8th-15th centuries).

Ana María Matute Interview in El País

There is a great interview in El País with Ana María Matute. They talk about how her heath has kept her from writing recently even though she has been completely mentally able to write. When talking about literature they discuss Matute’s works for children and how she has often written from the perspective of children. It has been very important throughout her career to write for them, in part because there wasn’t anything good and she wanted to write for her son. They also talk about how her mother supported her writing, something rare during the Franco Period, and with her help would type up her drafts before submitting them to publishers.

There was fascinating questions about her style.

You seem especially predisposed to this type of literature [sparse], since you uphold plain and straightforward writing that is not easy to achieve; en fact, you say it is very difficult. Yes. It is that I want the whole world to understand me. I don’t want to torture the reader. No. There are a lot of writers that love to torturer the reader. Not me! [Said harshly] I like that the understand me. For this reason I write. In addition, I’m not such an elitist.

Usted parece especialmente predispuesta a este tipo de literatura, ya que defiende la escritura llana y sencilla, que no es tan fácil de conseguir; de hecho, usted dice que es muy difícil. Sí. Es que yo quiero que me entienda todo el mundo. Yo no quiero torturar al lector. No. Hay muchos escritores a los que les encanta torturar al lector. ¡A mí no! [Proclama con dureza]. A mí me gusta que me entiendan. Para eso escribo. Además, no soy tan elitista.

She also talked about her relationship to the Civil War and recent pushes to investigate the past in Spain.

Undoubtedly it is a traumatic experience. It was tremendous. I still can’t stand fireworks. They have the same sound as the bombs. The bombardments here in Barcelona were terrible. By sea and by air. We lived on Platón Street and back then I saw the sea from my room and I was completely frightened. You feel so powerless…My father would say: take everyone by the hand against the teacher’s wall. And we all would stay that way…[She remains quiet, in suspense, with a face of fear]. I also remember the lines. Those of us who were bourgeois children, those that didn’t go out without one’s father [she makes a face of horror], we quickly had to go stand in line to get bread, where nobody gave a damn. For us it was great! Because we had the liberty to come and go…We looked like mice wanting to go after cheese. My older brother and I discovered freedom. We enjoyed it a lot.

I have found that many people your age reject, perhaps out of fear, the plans to recover the historical memory, to remove this part of history from the past. It is that the way perhaps the fear hasn’t gone, but yes the sadness [remains], the laceration, and the waking of hatreds. I understand that those that have not lived the war have their own feelings, but for me it makes me shiver. To return to relive, to remember. I remember the attempted coup de Tejero [in 1981]. I was with my son in a taxi and we hear the shots on the radio. Look! And I became desperate. “Not again! No, God, not again!” My son asked me: “What’s happening mama?” The taxi cab driver and my son began to talk about what was happening and I would only say: “No, not again. No I will resist it.

Indudablemente es una experiencia muy traumática. Es tremenda. Yo todavía ahora no soporto los fuegos artificiales. Tienen el mismo sonido que las bombas. Los bombardeos aquí en Barcelona fueron terribles. Por mar y por aire. Nosotros vivíamos en la calle de Platón y entonces veía el mar desde mi cuarto y pasaba un miedo espantoso. Te sientes tan impotente… Mi padre decía: cojámonos todos de la mano, contra el muro maestro. Y así nos quedábamos todos… [Se queda quieta, en suspenso, con cara de susto]. También me acuerdo de las colas. Nosotros, que éramos unos niños de clase burguesa, de esos que no salían más que con las tatas [pone cara de horror], teníamos de pronto que ir a hacer colas para conseguir el pan, sin que a nadie le importara. ¡Para nosotros era fenomenal! Porque teníamos libertad de entrar y salir… Parecíamos ratones deseando salir del queso. Mi hermano mayor y yo descubrimos la libertad. La disfrutamos mucho.

He comprobado que mucha gente de su edad rechaza, quizá por miedo, los intentos de recuperar la memoria histórica, de remover esa parte del pasado. Es que de la guerra quizá ya no te queda el miedo, pero sí la tristeza, el desgarro y un despertar de odios. Entiendo que los que no han vivido la guerra tengan un sentimiento distinto, pero a mí me escalofría. Volver a repasar, a recordar. Me acuerdo del intento de golpe de Estado de Tejero [en 1981]. Yo iba con mi hijo en un taxi y oímos los tiros a través de la radio. ¡Mira!, me entró una desesperación… ¡Otra vez no! ¡No, por Dios, otra vez no! Mi hijo me preguntaba: “¿Pero qué te pasa, mamá?”. El taxista y él empezaron a hablar de lo que estaba pasando y yo sólo decía: “No, otra vez no. No lo resistiré”.