Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Peron Books Reviewed at Book Slut

Jesse Tangen-Mills has a review of three of  Tomás Eloy Martínez’s books, Saint Evita, The Novel of Peron, and the Tango Singer at Book Slut. He gives a good overview of the books, ones I should have read some time ago, especially since I own a copy of the Novel of Peron in Spanish. Both of the Peron novels are intriguing approaches to story telling. He gave an interesting interview here where he discussed some of what he wanted to do with the books.

His first attempt, The Perón Novel, took him thirty years to complete, and took me nearly six months to find. Big Spanish-language publishing houses have bases in more than one country, certainly in the biggies like Mexico and Argentina. The really big publishing houses have a base in every country in South America, and publish roughly a dozen autóctonos novels in each country, that will only be sold within that nation. The Argentine novelist, and contemporary of Martínez, Ricardo Piglia recently described it as “the Balkanization of literature in Spanish.” A less brilliant mind might just say it sucks. Every bookseller I spoke to in Colombia had read the novel, but didn’t have it. The translation was much easier to get used. In the end, I decided to read a bootleg version first (bootleg PDFs abound in Spanish) on my grime-covered laptop, before turning to the translation.

I didn’t mind starting The Perón Novel on a laptop because it was as good as I had expected, although I should warn the the reader that despite the straightforward prose with which the novel is written, without a good foundation in Argentine history, the book’s plot — and its many unbelievable characters — will be confusing. So before I get into the novel, I need to provide some background. Perón was what no American president has ever been, but always promises to be: bipartisan. He’s a Fascist-socialist-dictator-populist. And depending on who you ask, he is all or none of those labels. He’s Mussolini, an orator he greatly admired; he’s Lenin. His second wife was Evita, Miss “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” until her death in 1952 (Martínez devotes another novel, Santa Evita, to her). Then in 1955, Pedro Eugenio Aramburu led a coup, and Perón was forced into exile for nearly twenty years. And then one day he came back. That’s where this novel begins.

It should be said that Martínez never intended these books to be nonfiction. He was adamant about that. He said it was fiction correcting the so-called “truth.” The entire book, in fact, reconstructs the arrival of Perón to Argentina and the mayhem that followed. The whole historical cast is here: José López Rega, astrologist, maniac, the Iago to Perón’s Othello; Isabel Martínez de Perón, who is also a star-reader; the dictator Aramburu’s guerrilla assassins for whom Perón is like Trotsky; the counter-insurgent Archangel, a poor boy trained in the art of taking abuse. I’m not sure if that last one is real, and all of them appear to be fictional. Astrology? Really? Yes? It’s all quite unbelievable.

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Interview with Borges Translator Suzanne Jill Levine

3 Quarks Daily has the transcript of an interview with Suzanne Jill Levine about Jorge Luis Borges. It is a lengthy interview and worth a look. It goes beyond his stories and talks about his non fiction works, something that he is not necessarily well known for in the US. You can also listen to the interview here.

In the nonfiction in these collections, are these a different Borges than you see in the fictions, or is it all of a piece, to your mind?

Both are true. In some ways, in order to understand, truly, his fictions, you have to look at his nonfiction work as well as his poetry to see where this language is coming from, where these ideas are coming from. What we wanted to do was bring forth to the reader not only the Borges they already know, but also expand their concept of who Borges is. For example, On Argentina is an aspect completely missing from the Selected Nonfictions, which is a wonderful volume. It’s just that that volume wanted to capture, let’s say, a more universal, international, and maybe more Anglo-oriented Borges.

But On Argentina shows you how Argentine Borges was. This really is a revelation. You understand how committed he was, politically, socially, culturally, to his particular country. That’s a part that many people aren’t aware of. It gives them insights they wouldn’t otherwise have about his fictions.

It is kind of, I don’t know if “fraught relationship” is the right term, he has with Argentina. It’s one that develops. You can flip through this book and see change: he’s come more to terms with Argentina. What was the process of his point of view on his country? He didn’t seem to like it very much early on, and at the end he’s still saying, “Here are the things we can’t do in Argentina,” but he’s matured.

It’s a very complex relationship. For me to sum up the history of Argentina and Borges’ ideas on it would be very ambitious, and probably wouldn’t work as well as the reader just picking up this lovely volume and reading the brilliant introduction by Alfred MacAdam, which does tell the story very well, as well as the essays themselves. He loved this culture, but was very pained by limitations, by a sense of a a lack of civic-mindedness, of a lack of, let’s say, political development. In other words, he saw it as a culture that was very rich, but, unfortunately, a country that was in the hands of, as he said, “gangsters.”

Naturally, at the time he was writing, regionalism was a very big movement. It really was a continuation of good old-fashioned European naturalism and realism. He wanted Argentina to find its own voice. He didn’t want writers to feel they had to write about certain subjects in a certain way. The fact of being Argentine was, whatever they wrote, it would be Argentine. This concept of identity was shocking, refreshing, and makes total sense.

Juan Jose Saer, Mercè Rodored, Mathias Enard’s Zone Winter 2010 from Open Letter

Open Letter Press has released its fall catalog and it has some pretty exciting items in it. Of particular interest to me are Mercè Rodored’s short stories. I read her Death in Spring last summer and thought it was great. I don’t know much about Juan Jose Saer, but the description sounds interesting. And Mathias Enard’s Zone is one of those stylistic works that is too tempting not to read.You can down load the catalog which contains samples and bios from Open Letter.

The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda. Translated from the Catalan by Martha Tennent. (Catalonia) Collected here are thirty-one of Mercè Rodoreda’s most moving and challenging stories, presented in chronological order of their publication from three of Rodoreda’s most beloved short story collections: Twenty-Two Stories, It Seemed Like Silk and Other Stories, and My Christina and Other Stories. These stories capture Rodoreda’s full range of expression, from quiet literary realism to fragmentary impressionism to dark symbolism. Few writers have captured so clearly, or explored so deeply, the lives of women who are stuck somewhere between senseless modernity and suffocating tradition—Rodoreda’s “women are notable for their almost pathological lack of volition, but also for their acute sensitivity, a nearly painful awareness of beauty” (Natasha Wimmer).

The Sixty-Five Years of Washington by Juan Jose Saer. Translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph (Argentina)

It’s October 1960, say, or 1961, in a seaside Argentinian city named Santa Fe, and The Mathematician—wealthy, elegant, educated, dressed from head to toe in white—is just back from a grand tour of Europe. He’s on his way to drop off a press release about the trip to the papers when he runs into Ángel Leto, a relative newcomer to Rosario who does some accounting, but who this morning has decided to wander the town rather than go to work.

One day soon, The Mathematician will disappear into exile after his wife’s assassination, and Leto will vanish into the guerrilla underground, clutching his suicide pill like a talisman. But for now, they settle into a long conversation about the events of Washington Noriega’s sixty-fifth birthday—a party neither of them attended.

Saer’s The Sixty-Five Years of Washington is simultaneously a brilliant comedy about memory, narrative, time, and death and a moving narrative about the lost generations of an Argentina that was perpetually on the verge of collapse.

Zone by Mathias Enard. Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell. (France)

Francis Servain Mirkovic, a French-born Croat who has been working for the French Intelligence Services for fifteen years, is traveling by train from Milan to Rome. He’s carrying a briefcase whose contents he’s selling to a representative from the Vatican; the briefcase contains a wealth of information about the violent history of the Zone—the lands of the Mediterranean basin, Spain, Algeria, Lebanon, Italy, that have become Mirkovic’s specialty.

Over the course of a single night, Mirkovic visits the sites of these tragedies in his memory and recalls the damage that his own participation in that violence—as a soldier fighting for Croatia during the Balkan Wars—has wreaked in his own life. Mirkovic hopes that this night will be his last in the Zone, that this journey will expiate his sins, and that he can disappear with Sashka, the only woman he hasn’t abandoned, forever . . .

One of the truly original books of the decade—and written as a single, hypnotic, propulsive, physically irresistible sentence—Mathias Énard’s Zone provides an extraordinary and panoramic view of the turmoil that has long deviled the shores of the Mediterranean.

Spain’s Big 3 Publishers Agree on Ebooks – But It Won’t Help You in the US

Publishing Perspectives has a good article on Spain’s three biggest publishers (and many smaller ones) that have agreed a plan to publish ebooks. They will, naturally, have digital rights management, but will be in a the ePub format which is reader neutral. They will also have region controls on them and you can only buy them in the big Spanish outlets and some smaller bookstores (El Corte Inglés, Fnac, Casa del Libro, Abacus, Cámara, Cervantes, La Central, Laie, Proteo, Machado, Popular, Ochentamundos, Hijos de Santiago Rodríguez, and Santos Ochoa). The article doesn’t make it clear if you could buy those books from the United States, which would be great because you could avoid shipping charges. I followed up with the author and one of her sources and they said, no. The publishers have to have the rights to sell in a market. I’m sure it that important for them to sell a few copies of a Spanish language book in the US, but it would certainly be handy (Yes, there are many Spanish speakers in the US, and one article doesn’t make a case, but according to Santillana USA, they don’t read too much).

In the age of globalization these cut up markets make little sense. I know how they happen, with companies divining up certain sectors, but they often lead to weird restraints of trade. If you look at how the music industry was during the late great age of the CD, often times you could buy an import from Europe or Japan that the record company in the US was just too lazy to bring out. Yes, if you had connections or were willing to pay extra you could get a copy, but it often left the artists who wanted to distribute without distribution. I will be able to buy things from Spain without any problems because I have connections, but it seems like this system doesn’t really benefit the artist or the public.

Chilean Hernán Rivera Letelier Has Won the Alfaguara Prize

Chilean Hernán Rivera Letelier won the Alfaguara Prize yesterday, one of the more important prizes in Spanish speaking world with a prize of $175,000. According to the jury, his book El arte de la resurrección “mixes historical and social chronicle with elements of magic realism (mezcla la crónica histórica y social con elementos del realismo mágico). You can read El Pais’s short note here.

Spain in a Hundred Books

Letras Libres has an interesting list of the 100 books that represent the coming of modern Spain. Created by 4 authors, the list isn’t limited to Spanish authors (Hemingway makes an appearance), but the Spaniards on the list are interesting. I am familiar with many of the names but haven’t read all of them, many  are not in English. Lorca’s Poet in NY shows up quite a bit, and for good reason as it really captures NY with impressive imagery.

Some others that caught my attention.

La colmena (1951), de Camilo José Cela

Don Julián (1970), de Juan Goytisolo

París no se acaba nunca (2003), de Enrique Vila-Matas

Luces de bohemia (1920), de Ramón del Valle-Inclán

Nada (1945), de Carmen Laforet

Historia de una escalera (1949), de Antonio Buero Vallejo

Cinco horas con Mario (1966), de Miguel Delibes

Contra las patrias (1984), de Fernando Savater

Anatomía de un instante (2009), de Javier Cercas

The list is here.

El insomnio de Bolívar (Bolivar’s Insomnia), by Jorge Volpi Reviewed at Letras Libres

After reading Jorge Volpi’s Season of Ash and some of his criticism I have been looking forward to seeing his prize wining El insomnio de Bolívar in print. Letras Libres has given it a mixed review. The basic point is Volpi says there is no national literature and Latin America isn’t filled with strange characters, except that it is. I’m sure it is an interesting read, but it does look flawed.

The problem, almost too much to say it, are not the provocations, large or toothless according to the sensibility to who reads them. The problems are the incoherences: he wants to rescue Latin America from magical realism and in the following act proclaim that Latin American literature has ceased to exist; celebrate that the region has normalized and immediately after proceed to inventory all its abnormalities; protest against the expectation of otherness that the international market has pushed on the Latin American writer, but writing a book in Latin America continues being a field radically different characterized, oy, by its fertile chaos.

El problema, casi sobra decirlo, no son las provocaciones, tremendas o desdentadas según la sensibilidad de quien las lea. El problema son las incoherencias: querer rescatar a América Latina del realismo mágico y, acto seguido, proclamar que la literatura latinoamericana ha dejado de existir; celebrar que la región se ha “normalizado” para, inmediatamente después, proceder al inventario de sus “anormalidades”; protestar contra la expectativa de otredad que el mercado internacional le impone al escritor latinoamericano, pero escribir un libro en el que América Latina sigue siendo un ámbito “radicalmente distinto” caracterizado, ay, por su “fecundo caos”.