Emilio, los chistes y la muerte, By Fabio Morábito in Letras Libres

Letras Libres reviewed Emilio, los chistes y la muerte, By Fabio Morábito recently and for those who like to read fiction as much for the style as the story it looks like an interesting book. If you read Spanish the review is worth a look.

The style of this novel is that of his stories and that is a good thing: we are before one of the stellar writers of our literature. Before anything, it is his self control. It is known that Morábito did not learn Spanish until he was 15, and it is noticeable: his relation with Spanish is adult-like, lacking the natural childishness fascination, marked with a distrust that obliges him to ponder every word. There is not, nor does it seem like there is, artificial nor capricious lyrics. If there is poetry, it is the poetry of Mondays: “Mondays/ they take apart the platforms/ and the bandstands, / they remove the nails / and the promises,/ reality returns / to its brutish state, / to poetry.” (from From Monday All the Year) There is a simplicity but not it is not simplistic, an economy but not a coldness. The sentences-he doesn’t stop to hide their elegance-are the remains of a fight we don’t see. Because there is a struggle:  Morábit’s struggle to purge the language.

El estilo de esta novela es el de sus cuentos, y eso es buena cosa: estamos ante uno de los prosistas estelares de nuestra literatura. Ante todo, su contención. Se sabe que Morábito no aprendió el idioma hasta los quince años, y se nota: su relación con el español es adulta, como desprovista de la natural fascinación infantil, como teñida de una desconfianza que lo obliga a ponderar cada palabra. No hay, no parece haber, artificio ni caprichos líricos. Si hay poesía, es la poesía de los lunes: “Los lunes/ se desmontan las tarimas/ y los estrados,/ se desclavan lo clavado/ y las promesas,/ la realidad vuelve/ a su estado bruto,/ a la poesía” (“De lunes todo el año”). Hay sencillez pero no simpleza, economía de me-
dios pero no frialdad. Las frases –no termina de ocultarlo su elegancia– son restos de una lucha que no observamos. Porque hay una lucha: la de Morábito purgando el idioma.

Emilio, los chistes y la muerte, By Fabio Morábito in Letras Libres

Flannery O’Connor Discussed on Leonard Lopate and NYRB

A new biography of Flannery O’Connor has led to a lengthy review of the book and an appraisal of her work by Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Review of Books, and an interview on the Leonard Lopate Show with the author of the book. Both are quite interesting for anyone who has enjoyed her works.

From Oates’ intro:

Short stories, for all the dazzling diversity of the genre, are of two general types: those that yield their meanings subtly, quietly, and are as nuanced and delicate and without melodrama as the unfolding of miniature blossoms in Japanese chrysanthemum tea, and those that explode in the reader’s face. Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) came of age in a time when subtlety and “atmosphere” in short stories were fashionable—as in the finely wrought, understated stories of such classic predecessors as Anton Chekhov, Henry James, and James Joyce, and such American contemporaries as Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, Peter Taylor, and Jean Stafford.

But O’Connor’s plainspoken, blunt, comic-cartoonish, and flagrantly melodramatic short stories were anything but fashionable. The novelty of her “acidly comic tales with moral and religious messages”—as Brad Gooch puts it in his new life of O’Connor—lay in their frontal assault upon the reader’s sensibility: these were not refined New Yorker stories of the era in which nothing happens except inside characters’ minds, but stories in which something happens of irreversible magnitude, often death by violent means.

Review of Modern Arabic Fiction in Al-Ahram

There is a good review of the Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthologyin Al-Ahram Weekly. Of particular interest is the process the editor used in having the stories translated. Instead of translating them all herself she uses a team.

Likewise, in her anthologies, she argues that only poets can render poetry and only fiction writers can render fiction from another language. Thus she is adamant about having two translators for each work: a scholar and a native speaker from the original to English, revised by a writer in the target language, with her editing the final version to make sure that no stylistic or semantic errors have crept in.

Jayyusi acquainted herself with the literary scene in the US and UK and got to know personally many English-speaking creative writers and convinced them to partake in her many projects of translation.

The article also comments on the selection of the authors and the quality of the translations. Since Gamal Al-Ghitani has just won the Zayed prize the reviewer’s descrption sounds even more intriguing.

Jayyusi’s approach to Arabic fiction is marked by an analysis of its content and technique. In content, she sees fiction as a reflection of the turbulent history of modern Arabs, with hopes and dreams followed by disappointments and breakdowns — what she calls a sense of the apocalyptic. She points to a few names that stand out as models of certain trends in Arabic fiction: the Saudi ‘Abd al-Rahman Munif for his petrofiction depicting how oil has changed the ecology and the culture of the Gulf; the Egyptian Gamal al-Ghitani for his sophisticated use of time — mythical time in Kitab al-Tajalliyat (Book of Revelations) and historical time in Zayni Barakat ; the Palestinian Ghassan Kanafani for his sense of space and loss of place; the Egyptian Edward al-Kharrat as a modernist and an experimentalist; the Palestinian Ibrahim Nasralla as venturing into postmodernism; and the Iraqis Gha’ib Tu’ma Farman and Fu’ad al-Takarli for depicting the individual struggling against prevailing moeurs. As for the short story, Jayyusi concentrates in her introduction on two figures, the Egyptian Yusuf Idris and the Syrian Zakaria Tamir. Needless to say dozens of others are mentioned, including Ibrahim al-Koni and Radwa Ashour.

New Books on Mexican American Culture

The LA Times has an interesting review of two new books on Mexican American culture.Mexican American Mojo: Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935-1968 (Refiguring American Music)
as the title says is about music in LA during the middle of the century and The World of Lucha Libre: Secrets, Revelations, and Mexican National Identity about the Mexican form of wrestling. The review also includes a quick overview of some of the literature on Music and Mexican American culture that is quite useful and I wish more reviews did this.

Yet after digesting this book, I still felt something lacking. Though “Mexican American Mojo” does a great job of proving its point, Macías ends at 1968, just when the Chicano movement took hold and a new generation emerged along with its music. He clips his thesis just as it’s about to truly take off. (For a better accounting of what followed, I recommend “Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles,” “Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock ‘n’ Roll from Southern California” and “An Oral History of DJ Culture from East Los Angeles.”) As it is, “Mexican American Mojo” can very well be Los Angeles’ version of Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” — a volume everyone should own but few will ever read.

And about Lucha Libre

Heather Levi’s entertaining “The World of Lucha Libre: Secrets, Revelations and Mexican National Identity” assumes the role of engaged anthropologist. Levi takes the novice into the world of lucha libre, veering between explaining the basics (moves, traditions, the difference between rudos and técnicos — bad and good guys, respectively) and recounting a thorough history of the sport, touching on major fighters, developments and its frequent intersections with Mexican politics and identity.

New German Literature in the TLS

The TLS recently had a review of some new German novels. All of these were published this year and, of course, are not available in English yet (I hope they are some day). Three of them deal with the GDR and the third, from Switzerland, deals with the Rawandan Genocide and Swiss complicity.

Three of the books sound very intriguing. ADAM UND EVELYN by Ingo Schulze, DER TURM by Uwe Tellkamp, and HUNDERT TAGE by Lukas Bärfuss.

Schulze’s novel is formally impressive. It consists almost entirely of snappy, naturalistic dialogues, portioned out in tasty little morsels in chapters of a few pages each: that the reader is able to deduce the plot events is in itself no small feat.

And the Bärfuss sounds tough but intriguing.

In a final childish burst, wanting to prove to Agathe that he isn’t like the other white people and won’t run away at the first sign of trouble, he hides in his garden as the last foreigners are evacuated. The horrors of the ensuing hundred days are born of order, not chaos: “I know now that perfect order rules the perfect hell”, David says. Bärfuss takes the reader step by step down the path to genocide. He emphasizes the role of Western – and particularly Swiss – aid in supplying the modern tools of organization and communication that made atrocities on such a scale possible: “we gave them the pencil with which they wrote the death lists . . . we laid the telephone lines over which they gave the murder commands . . . we built the streets upon which the murderers drove to their victims”.

Bolaño Reviewed in the TLS

The TLS has a good review of 2666. The review isn’t as fawning as some and tries to locate the source of Bolañomania. Like a previous El País article, the review finds similarities between Bolaño and the American literary tradition.

The author’s exuberant, informal voice echoed that of several American classics; while he cited Huckleberry Finn as an inspiration, the book clearly bore the imprint of On the Road and The Catcher in the Rye. In addition, many of his themes resonated with the puritan and romantic impulses of the American literary tradition. Bolaño’s world is open to self-invention and redemption, but also pervaded by ineradicable evil. It is bracingly egalitarian in its range of cultural references: The Savage Detectives borrows from the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon as well as from Mark Twain; 2666 references both Herman Melville and David Lynch; figures in his poems include Anacreon, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Sam Peckinpah and Godzilla. Readers of all tastes could thus feel at ease with this disquieting writer, and many sought his other translated works.

If you are still on the fence about 2666, the review is worth a read.

El País Reviews Bolaño and Bolanomania Again

El País has another article about Bolanomania in the United States. (You can see a previous post I did on the subject here). It talks about some of the reviews he has received, how most talk about his biography as much or more than the books and notes the controversy over his heroin usage. The article also notes that one’s reputation after death is based on luck. The author notes that the translation into English has created a different Bolaño, a Bolaño that Americans read from within their own cultural framework. Nothing surprising there. He goes on to compare Bolaño to Kerouac and suggests Americans are placing reading Kerouac and the Beat’s vitalism into Bolaños vitalism and from this reading they are culturally locating Bolaño.

Probably the North American reader recognizes a diction en these novels that es not dissimilar and lets the reader make the book their own, with local flavor and its riches. In English the books are not only very literary and miticulous, pasionate and brillant; they are, over all, vitalist.

The grand tradition of North American vitalist prose, in effect, has been the setting where the various styles of fiction characteristically Yankee were defined. The greatest stylist of this style is Jack Kerouac, and his On the Road, written in 1951 and rejected by 19 publishers before its publication in 1957, is a a modern classic. Even though the Beat Generation ended up being devoured by its own reputation, its works are more serious than the image of its authors, simplified to the point of being taken granted, and converted into merchandise. The brilliance of that vibrant, radiant, fluid, and unpredictable prose echoes like a spell in the pages of Bolaño.

Probablemente el lector norteamericano reconoce en estas novelas una dicción que no le es ajena, y que le permite hacer suya, con apetito local, su riqueza. En inglés no son sólo muy literarias y minuciosas, apasionadas y brillantes; son, sobre todo, vitalistas.

La gran tradición de la prosa norteamericana vitalista, en efecto, ha sido el escenario donde se definen los varios estilos de la ficción característicamente yanqui. El mayor estilista de este estilo es Jack Kerouac, y su On the road, escrita en 1951 y rechazada por 19 editoriales antes de su publicación en 1957, un clásico moderno. Aunque la generación Beat terminó devorada por su biografía popular, sus obras son más serias que la imagen de sus autores, simplificados al punto de darse por leídos, convertidos en mercancía residual. El brillo de esa prosa vivaz, irradiante, fluida, imprevisible, resuena como un conjuro en las páginas de Bolaño.

Alaa Al Aswany Reviewed in the New York Times

The New York Times has a mixed review of Alaa Al Aswany’s new book. The reviewer doesn’t like it quite as much as the The Yacoubian Building. The book, which takes place in the US, does sound a little off and not as interesting as The Yacoubian Building.

Al Aswany writes about his Egyptian characters with charm, gentle humor and genuine conviction. It’s his depiction of Americans in their natural habitat that baffles. A beautiful young black woman is fired from her job at a shopping mall, supposedly because of her race; unable to find work, she succumbs to the indignity of posing as an “adult lingerie” model — for $1,000 an hour. A middle-aged woman, shunned by her husband, ventures into a sex shop to buy a vibrator and is treated to a lecture on the G spot and its role in female emancipation (“A woman is no longer a tool for man’s pleasure or his physical subordinate”), complete with bibliographic citations (Gräfenburg, Perry and Whipple).

Bolaño, Enrique Lihn, and Jorge Edwards

I found one review and one story whose discovery were perfectly timed. The first, is a review in Letras Libres of a new book by Jorge Edwards. The second is a short story Meeting with Enrique Lihn by Bolaño in the New Yorker. The two items coincide nicely because the Bolaño story, although not particularly evident in the story what role Lihn performs in Bolaño’s personal pantheon, he is obviously someone, unlike Paz, worthy of moving through a dreamscape.

Edwards book, according to Edmundo Paz Soldán, uses a character based on Lihn to represent a generalized view of one whole generation, the generation of the 40’s and 50’s, before Bolaño and after Neruda. The book has many similarities to The Savage Detectives: the bohemian life style, the traveling here and there, the nightlife, the disgust at the established poet, in this case Neruda. But unlike the savage detectives, the Poet’s writing is what takes center stage.

En Los detectives salvajes, Belano y Lima son la periferia de la neovanguardia, hombres en fuga que para resistir al sistema, a la institución de la literatura, se entregan a la poesía como una experiencia vital. Para el Poeta de Edwards, la experiencia es intensa, pero la obra se antepone siempre a esta: “En los últimos días había empezado a escribir de nuevo en uno de sus cuadernos escolares. Eran hileras de versos que se curvaban, se entrechocaban y se desplomaban por las orillas, asomándose a veces en el otro lado de las páginas.”

In the Savage Detectives, Belano and Lima are peripheral to the neovanguard, men in flight to resist the system, literary instruction, and to live poetry as a vital experience. For Edward’s poet, the experiences are intense, but the work is always first: “In the last few days I had begun to write again in a student’s notebook. They were lines of verse that curve and chatter and tumble down by the shore, peeking out at times on the other side of the page.

It is an interesting article and gives a wider frame of reference to Bolaño, especially given the story in the New Yorker. It seems Bolaño wasn’t the only Chilean poet to reject so throughly what came before.

On a different note, the opening sentence is a great little capsule of Chilean literary controversies of the last few years.

El mundillo literario chileno suele alborotarse cada tanto con polémicas genuinas y otras que son más bien gratuitas. En las últimas décadas le tocó a Alberto Fuguet y Sergio Gómez debido a la antología McOndo, y a Roberto Bolaño y Diamela Eltit, enfrentados por unas declaraciones nada diplomáticas del primero; este año el turno ha sido de Jorge Edwards (Santiago, 1931), ese escritor de modales tan finos que es fácil confundirlo con un diplomático (de hecho, lo ha sido durante muchos años).

Labyrinth of Solitude – 50 Years Latter

As Scott at Conversational Reading noted, there is a long review of the 50th anniversary of the Labyrinth of Solitude in Letras Libres for those of you who can read it, it is worth the time. If you only read English, I’ll give a quick summary. I haven’t read the book since I was in college at The Evergreen State College in Olympia where I took a class on e quarter (at Evergreen this means my only class of 16 credits for ) called Mexico Since the Revolution. Labyrinth, along with classics of Mexican fiction by Rulfo, Fuentes, Azuella and Yañez, and more anthropological titles like the outdated Profile of Man and Culture in Mexico were on the reading list. In this context Paz, though unique in his approach, did fit within a tradition, which the article makes clear.

Alejandro Rossi, the author, first talks about the publishing history of the book. In its first run it only did 3000 copies and it took another ten years for a reprint to appear, not unlike Rulfo’s Pedro Parama. It wasn’t until the masquers of the students in 1968 did the book gain a wider readership outside of writers. The book first written at the end of the forties, was written in a period of great activity and followed Eagle or Sun, a book of poems which also explores, in part, Mexicanness. (It also includes the wonderful My Life With The Wave)

Rossi goes on to talk about the how Paz used Plato’s conception of the cave to frame his argument. Men crave societal relations which they find in the cave, but to gain insight one must leave the cave, which, of course, breaks the relationship. When the man comes back to the cave he is now an outsider, but through the outsider status they can help lead the group, since they now have special knowledge. Using this metaphor, Paz saw Labyrinth as a way to examine, or leave the cave, of society. What makes this approach unique, is that Paz writes a book that is not academic.

Rossi covers several salient points, but most important for Paz’s relation to Mexican intellectual history of that time, is how Paz sees Mexican History and its relation to the mythic solidarity of the past. (This article was difficult to translate so my apologies if it seems a little choppy.)

La nostalgia de la comunidad no es el anhelo sentimental por una comunidad cualquiera, no, tampoco es la nostalgia de Platón frente a la polis de su época, no, se trata de la nostalgia de la Edad de Oro, que sería precisamente la edad sin máscaras, el sitio, entre otras cosas, donde se da el verdadero amor, el amor sin velos, el amor que es lo contrario del amor rodeado de convenciones, se trata del amor revolucionario, una idea que le viene del surrealismo. […] Pero siempre que habla de autenticidad, piensa en la Edad de Oro. Y la Revolución Mexicana es para Octavio el momento de la sinceridad histórica, sería el momento de la recuperación de este ser original que él intenta descubrir en El laberinto de la soledad. Y dentro de la Revolución Mexicana será el zapatismo el que más se acerque a la autenticidad anhelada. La Revolución restablece el tiempo original, la Revolución busca la fundación de un tiempo mítico anterior.

The community’s nostalgia is not a sentimental longing for whatever community, neither is it the nostalgia of Plato facing the polis of his era, no, it is about the nostalgia of the Golden Age which would be the age without masks, the place, among other things, where they give each other the true love, the love without veils, the love that is the the opposite of the love that is surrounded by conventions; it is about the revolutionary love, an idea that comes from surrealism. […] But always talking about authenticity, you think about the Golden Age. And the Mexican Revolution is, for Octavio, the moment of historical sincerity. It would be the moment of regaining the original being that he wanted discover in the Labyrinth of Solitude. And within the Mexican Revolution perhaps is Zapatismo, the thing closest to the longed for authenticity. The revolution reestablished the original time; the revolution searched for the foundation from a previous, mythic time.

Although Paz does not idealize the Revolution, he does see in it a mythic narrative for Mexico, much as he sees forging of relationships between the Indians and the Spanish through the Catholic church. It is a search for something within the history of Mexico, not something to bring from the outside. These ideas are not unique among those of his generation and there is a desire to fashion something new and unique from the recent past, a breaking of the pre-revolutionary, more Eurpoean, with the more Mexican. Paz, himself, does not see Zapata as the ideal, it is the communal ideals tied up in Zapata that create a national myth and joins the Mexicans in Plato’s cave together.

I’m not sure what Paz thought of the national myths himself, but he does write about them in Eagle or Sun (the title refers to the Aztecs, and by extension, Mexico itself). Taken together, they form a mythic ideal of Mexico, which was also being written by Rulfo in a darker manner.

I don’t know if I’ll read Labyrinth of Solitude again, but the article made me think it was time to look at it again.

The Fifty Minute Mermaid – in the TLS

The TLS has a review of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s book The Fifty Minute Mermaid, which sounds at the same time funny, magical, and yet subversive. It is published in a side by side edition in English and Gaelic and sounds fun.

after she had stumbled across the greatest discovery of all –  something even more profound than sex – / by which I mean mascara

My family history is Irish and I have always wanted to learn Gaelic and as a teenager thought I actually would. Perhaps, still, along with Arabic I still can. Until then, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s will have to suffice.

Murray Bail at The Quarterly Conversation

There is a review of Murray Bail at The Quarterly Conversation. I’m always leery of comparisons to Borges because they seldom turn out to be true. The writer always has the intellectual elements, playing with texts, playing with the notions of knowledge, yet they lack the precision and the dedication to the narrative that is in itself a precise search and is part of the play, especially the works that come from Ficciones and The Aleph.

That said, Murray Bail sounds interesting and how often do you a chance to see the Aussie view—of course, you could settle for Australia.


El País has a proud review of Bolanomania, or as they say is should be written, Bolañomanía. Mostly it marvels at not only the breadth of great reviews in traditional press, including Oparah, but at the cultish praise and excitement in the blogosphere.

[…] la novela de Bolaño está beneficiándose de un insólito “boca a oreja” promovido desde medios muy diferentes. Las cinco estrellas que le han concedido los lectores de Amazon son el trasunto más comercial de la avalancha de opiniones favorables en la blogosfera, un hecho sin precedentes para un libro en español, aunque Bolaño ya fuera considerado un “autor de culto” en círculos minoritarios desde la publicación de Los detectives salvajes. Y es en esos ámbitos donde es mayor el poder de atracción y la influencia del escritor chileno, cuya literatura, como ha afirmado Rodrigo Fresán, posee un extraño efecto movilizador entre los jóvenes, que es con quienes mejor conecta. A ellos se dirigen los apresurados apuntes que, desde diversos medios, lo presentan perfunctoriamente como “un rebelde literario ejemplar”, una “respuesta posmoderna a García Márquez”, o resumen apresuradamente de sus años de formación como los de un “vagabundo, trabajador manual y drogadicto que trabajó intermitentemente en Chile, México y España”.

[…] Bolaño’s novel es benifiting from word to mouth promotion in different media. The five star reviews that the Amazon readers have given the book is just a the most commercial image of the avalanche of favorable opinions in the blogosphere, something without precedence for a Spanish language book even though Bolaño was already considered a cult author since the publication of the Savage Detectives. It is in this sphere where the attraction and influence of the Chilean, whose work, as Rodrigo Fresán has stated, possesses a strange power to mobilize the young who he has   connected with the strongest.They write the hurried notes that, through different media, present him as “a model literary rebel,” a postmodern answer to García Márquez,” o a hurried summary of his formative years as a “vagabond, manual laborer and drug addict that worked intermittently en Chile, Mexico, and Spain.

It is obvious that there is a desire to have English speakers read a little more than the boom, as great as it was. And I concur.

After the Boom: New Latin American Writing (sp)

Although these articles were published in El País 6 months ago they are still very interesting. They are only in Spanish, but if you read Spanish you can get a good and quick overview of writing and writers since the boom, which sometimes feels like the only writing that makes in to translation.

The first article lists young writers (those born during the boom), a representative work, and their interests.

The second article is more a history of the trends in new writing. It includes an attack on the plague of magical realism that appeared after the House of Spirits was published, and an overview of newer trends in writing. Well worth the read if you are interested in Latin American fiction.

A Spaniard in New York – La ciudad automática

Letras Libres has a review of what looks like a fascinating book. A Spanish reporter, Julio Camba, comes to 1930’s New York and writes his reactions to the the city and the depression. As the review points out, it would make a good contrast to Poet in New York by Lorca. Apparently he didn’t quite like the city nor America, but nerveless his impressions sound worth a read.