Santiago Roncagliolo to be Censored in the Dominican Republic

Moleskin Literario reports that Santiago Roncagliolo’s Memorias de una Dama (Memoirs of a Woman) is going to be censored by the Dominican Republic. Apparently, his novel which takes place in the Dominican Republic has  several characters based on real people and which are easily identified. Lets hope this leads to better sales as it always seems to do.

António Lobo Antunes: If I Could Only Choose One Author, It Would Be Me

I was watching a good interview (Spanish only) with António Lobo Antunes on RTVE’s Pagína 2 and he said something I’ve never heard an author say. Perhaps some do, but it seems it would be bad form to say it public these days. When asked if there were writers he had identified with he eventually says,

If I could choose only one writer besides myself, it would be Quevedo.

Si yo pudiera eligir sol un escritor aparte de mi, eligir Quevedo.

While it seems strange to my ears, why shouldn’t a writer like their own work. Americans are taught a certain modesty about bragging and it is bad form to say you are the best or most interesting writer. However, after working on a piece for sometime I find it a little tiresome, even if it is good.

Hugo House Reading – January 4, 2010

I went over to the Hugo House to read part of a short story today. It went well and I got a laugh where I wanted one and I think there was some genuine interest in the story, although it is hard to tell from the bright lights.

It was a much more interesting event this month, partly because prose outweighed poetry. And the prose was actually quite good. One fellow read his Sadris influenced Christmas story about Rudolph in NY and another had a witty story about a drug dealing friend of his. All in all it was a nice change from poetry, although, five minutes is never enough time for prose.

The German Mujahid, by Boualem Sansal – A Review

The German Mujahid
Boualem Sansal, pg 227

Boualem Sansal’s The German Mujahid tries to link Islamist violence, the Holocaust, and the Algerian police state into a larger statement about totalitarian regimes and intolerance. In one way it is an ambitious idea: link seemingly disparate historical events like the Holocaust and Islamist violence in Paris suburbs, while creating a narrative that can plausibly hold the elements together. On the other hand, a book with such themes could easily veer into didactic sermonizing about the evils of totalitarian regimes, lumping them all into one group and not exploring what made them so horrible. While The German Mujahid does put together a plausible narrative, it also suffers from the later problem so that at times it seems as if Sansal can’t afford to wait any longer to tell us about how horrible these regimes are and has to shout it. If I lived in Algeria as he does perhaps I would be shouting, too. But as a work of literature it has a few deficiencies that don’t make it a bad book, just one that doesn’t understand subtly.

The German Mujahid is about two brothers, Rachel and his younger brother Malrich. They have lived in France since childhood, but their parents still live in rural Algeria, the Bled. Their mother is Berber but their father is German, a veteran of the Algerian war of independence.  In 1994, in the midst of the Islamist war in Algeria, their parents and several other villagers are murdered. Rachel returns to the village to take care of the estate and he finds a box with his father’s papers, which indicate that he had been, among other things, an SS officer at Auschwitz. It is a damning realization and Rachel sinks into a depression as he slowly untangles his father’s involvement in the Holocaust and then his subsequent flight to Egypt and Algeria. It is too overwhelming and Rachel sizes on the idea that he has to pay for the sins of the father.  Since his father died without atoning or facing justice, he will do it for him, dying in his garage overcome by car exhaust fumes.

Malrich, a petty criminal living in one of the high rise residences on the outskirts of Paris, follows the same investigation as Rachel. Using Rachel’s diary, Malrich also comes to terms with his father’s past. But Malrich, instead of wanting to pay for the sins of the father, internalizes the role of the victim and sees around him in the residence and in Algeria just more Nazis using whatever ideology they can to control and brutalize. Malrich sees the local imam and his thuggish Islamist  toughs as just a new incarnation of the Gestapo. He wants to take them on, fight them before they can start new death camps, which he fears the residences will become. Yet the French government seems unwilling to take on this fight at the end of the book he gives his summation of the state of things.

The Islamists are already here, they’re settled and here we are,  bound hand and foot, caught in the trap. If they don’t exterminate us, they’ll stop us from living. Worse still, they’ll turn us into our own guards, deferential to the emir, merciless to each other. We’ll be Kapos.

It is clear that Sansal sees the Islamist’s goals are not too dissimilar to those of the Nazi’s. He is not subtle about this at all. He also extends his criticism, though, to the government in Algeria, whose socialist state has been repressive from the beginning, only getting worse when it put down the Islamist terror campaign in the 90s.

While equivalency between horrors is wasted math, the totalitarian traits of all the groups is not in question and Sansal is right to make the links. In the context of Arab and Algerian literature, too, the book is important because it addresses topics that have either been avoided, or baned. Sansal it seems is trying to break the Islamist and Algerian issues from their respective religious and nationalistic imperatives, and make a comparison that is outside of the specific grievances that make for easy justifications, and say, look, you are doing the same.

The question, then, is how well does Sansal do this? Does he address the responsibility for guilt? Does he link the themes together adequately? In many ways he doesn’t succeed. The problem is the two brothers are so extreme they become embodiments of an inflexible rhetorical position that seems everything in black and white. Their approach to confronting these issues is to either die or to become paranoid, which could be called a psychic shock as the confront the past, but in reality makes them unable to actually confront the horrors they want to confront. Suicide is a private act that redeems no one and Malrich’s street tough persona doesn’t yet have the ability to organize and confront what he fears. And this is Sansal’s problem: he describes the problem, but doesn’t know what else to do but collapse in desperation.

The sense of desperation is partly from the literary device he uses: each brother writes their own journal entries. The journals are detailed and move the story along quickly, but they also create a myopia that places the individual’s experience at the center of the story and becomes a self reinforcing set of complaints, so that instead of seeing their lives in a larger context (even against the third person description of a street) you only have the one frame. While no writer has to put a story in context, Sansal seems to want to make a larger point, but what he produces is panic. A personal panic set against shadowy terror. Perhaps panic is the emotion you would feels if you were Malrich, but in the book it comes across an author more interested in warning the world than writing literature.

Perhaps given Sansal’s theme that is not a bad thing.

Is the Best American Writing of the Last 10 Years Sexist?

Mark Athitakis reports that what have been called the best novels of the last ten years have all had a similar theme: “Men struggling against a society whose rules and limits are defined by women.” If I had actually read some of these works I could comment, but many have never really piqued my interest. However, it is a thesis worth noting and I would like to see it explored more. Definitely, worth exploring the threads he mentions.

A week or so back, Andrew Seal spent some time testing an argument by literary scholar Nina Baym that critics’ favorite works of American literature tends to adhere to a particular theme: Men struggling against a society whose rules and limits are defined by women. To celebrate such books, the argument goes, is to bolster a particular American myth. (At least, that’s how I understand the argument; I haven’t read the Baym essay that Seal discusses.) To investigate the matter, Seal picks a few consensus favorites from the past ten years—The CorrectionsThe Yiddish Policeman’s UnionNetherlandThe Road—as well asKeith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men, I suppose just for the sake of slapping it around a bit more.

Jorge Volpi – the Historical Novel in Latin America

In part four of Three Percent’s talk from Jorge Volpi, Volpi discusses recent historical novels in Latin America. What is interesting is that after saying there was no Latin American literature, he talks as if there were one. However, he sees in Latin American historical novels a reluctance to deal with the now.

The ”historical novel” blossoms in Latin America just like everywhere else, but in general it covers a more remote past—the Pre-Hispanic or the Colonial period—or it aspires to secularizing heroes and official villains, but always distant in time. If to that you add the lack of interest—or the revulsion—that politics awakens among the writers who were born from the sixties on, the result is an absence of stories related to our recent history.

But if younger writers have been younger fiction writers have been reluctant to write about recent history, historians have even been more reluctant and so it has to fall to the fiction writers to do something.

To this date, except for a few pamphlets of support or opposition, characters as fascinating and dark as Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Carlos Andrés Pérez, Carlos Menem, Alberto Fujimori, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales, and Hugo Chávez all lack definitive biographies. There is hardly any detail of their intimate lives or examination of their public performance or, at the other extreme, novelistic explorations of their acts (among the few exceptions, the already classic Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez or La hora azul by Alonso Cueto about Vladimiro Montesinos).

Part of the dearth has been fear and some of it has been disillusion with politics in general. Now, though, he sees some younger writers who have begun to tackle some of the issues of violence in their home countries.

In Peru, after the grotesque Fujimori-Montesinos government, the new democracy installed a Commission of Truth and Reconciliation that played a significant role in public life. It could be a coincidence, but from that moment on, a good number of writers have dared to scrutinize the immediate past with different and sometimes contrary perspectives. Besides de Cueto, I consider the work of three authors born after 1960 outstanding: Abril rojo (2002) by Santiago Roncagliolo, War by Candelight (2006) by Daniel Alarcón—whose first novel Lost City Radio (2008) also refers to this theme—and Un lugar llamado Oreja de Perro (2008) by Iván Thays.

The rest of the article explains the books and how they represent the trend he has been talking about and is a good conceptualization of novels in the historical genre.

Jorge Volpi on Bolaño and American Literary Reaction

Three Percent continues its serialization of Jorge Volpi’s comments on Latin American literature.  In this section he takes American critics to task for building up a Bolaño myth much like that of Jack Kerouac so they could sell the story of a rebel. In contrast, the Spanish language press has looked at Bolaño more in terms of his way of attacking and rebuilding literary ideas.

In general, Volpi has taken the line that American critics have exoticized the Latin America as a dark world of corruption and political intrigue, or a  one of superstitious peasants. The criticisms are fair and show both a miopia on the part of some critics who wish to put some certain literature in well defined categories, and a drive of the market to produce more of what sold so well before. It is the plea of an artist for freedom, which also means that while he says there is no Latin American Literature, there are some links between authors, not necessarily in theme, or style, or history, or whatever element you would like to focus on, but a more general closeness of experience. They have lived lives that have more inter connections than those on other continents and so it gives the writing not a similarity, but a fraternity. And even in opposition to one’s fraternity, fraternity can still shape one’s self.

Beyond the discussion of Bolaño’s supposed heroin use, none of the critics of his books in the Spanish language made a point of focusing on his life, ”rebel, exile, addict”. (If this were not enough, during his last decade Bolaño never lived ”in the urgency of poverty”, but the modest life of the suburban middle class, a life infinitely more placid than the other Latin American immigrants in Cataluña). Without a doubt, the relation between the life and works possesses greater enchantment in the United States than in any other part of the world, but the emphasis on his supposed or real penury have played a key role in interpreting (and, obviously, selling) his books. The American literary world has been obliged to construct a radical rebel from a simple misunderstanding: confusing a first person narrator with its author. Bolaño, who during the last years of his life had a more or less normal life, not full of luxuries, but clothed by an almost simultaneous recognition from the publication of his first books (Nazi Literature in the Americas and Distant Star in 1997 and The Savage Detectives in 1998), has been transformed into one of those furious writers who, facing down the scorn of his contemporaries and through a fierce individual fight, manage to convert themselves into tragic artists, posthumous heroes: a new example of the myth of the self-made man. Bolaño, thus, as the last revolutionary or the heir of Salinger or the Beats: it is not coincidental that the other Latin American figure exalted to his in the United States is the sugarcoated Che Guevara by Benicio del Toro and Steven Soderbergh. Both of them have become, in their American versions, bastions of fierceness and defiance, prophets equipped with a blind faith in their respective causes—in one case art and in the other politics—ideal models for the intimidated and disbelieving society of the United States under George Bush.

Although no one has dared point it out, the reasons for Bolaño’s ascent are not that different from those that governed García Márquez’s rise forty years ago: for the developed world, both have been mirrors of a necessary exoticism. The step from magical realism to the reaction of visceral realism sounds, all of the sudden, almost foreseeable: in both cases ”the political” has been the key to drawing the attention of the meek American readers, no matter that the left-wing compromise of one has nothing to do with the acid post-political criticism of the other; and last, both have been received as a breath of fresh air—in other words, of savagery—before the contemporary lack of will power.

Latin American Literature Does Not Exist Anymore – Jorge Volpi

Three Percent posted part two of Jorge Volpi’s thoughts on Latin American Literature, or perhaps better said, writing that comes from Latin America. Essentially, he states what should be obvious with some fore thought: not all writers in Latin America write about the same thing and the Boom and Magical Realism were nothing more than a straight jacket.

Let us be radical: Latin American literature does not exist anymore. Lovely: hundreds or thousands of Latin American writers exist, or better said, hundred of thousands of Chilean, Honduran, Dominican, Venezuelan (et cetera) writers exist, but a unique literary body endowed with recognizable characteristics, no. We have just seen it: the Spanish language is not a shared characteristic. And, if truth be told, there is nothing to lament.

The idea of a national literature, with typical and unrepeatable peculiarities, completely different from any other, is an anachronistic invention of the 19th century. As Benedict Anderson demonstrated in Imagined Communities (1983), the incipient European states were the ones that, threatened by popular revolts in that period, persisted in accentuating the consensus of its citizens through all kinds of schemes, patronage of the national literatures being one of the most powerful.


Jorge Volpi on Latin American Literature

Three Percent is serializing an excellent lecture by Jorge Volpi about Latin American Literature. In the first installment he is talking about Magical Realism and its suffocating history. Well worth the read.

[…] Once again we appear as good savages, dominated by superstition and mystery, accustomed to coexisting with the supernatural, or, in the other extreme, as a primitive people who remain apathetic in the face of the very unusual. The social interpretation of the literature thus acquires an unsettling political shade: Latin American people are not distinguished by our fantasy, but by our resignation. A resignation of a murky Catholic origin that explains the conformism which turns us into docile subjects, cannon fodder, the successive victims of Colonialism, Imperialism, Communism, and Capitalism.

But even in purely literary terms, the absolute identification of Latin America with magical realism has wreaked havoc. In the first place, it erased, with a single stoke, all of Latin America’s previous explorations—from the babblings of the 19th century to some of the brilliant recent moments of our literature, including the avant-garde of the beginning of the 20th century. And it became a choke-chain for those writers who didn’t show any interest in magic. If this were not enough, it promulgated a profound misunderstanding of the Boom. And, perhaps most seriously, it elevated literary nationalism above the rich universal tradition of the region.

Spain – the Land of a 3500 Literary Prizes

El Pais has an article that notes that Spain has 3500 literary prizes, 10 for every day of the year. I have always thought there were a lot of prizes floating around Spain. Every time I watch El Publico Lee it seems the invited author has won some prize, often from one of the provinces. It would be as if each state had its own literary prize (and some do). Of course, there are the publishers who have their own prizes. There are some uses, but I’m not sure it signifies much about quality.

“The quantity of prizes in Spain is something that surprises foreigners, especially those from Peru where there are only three,” says Fernando Iwasaki. In his opinion, the awards serve three purposes: sustain a vocation, to establish a career, or to directly retire someone before their time.” 

“La cantidad de  “>premios que hay en España es algo que sorprende a cualquier extranjero, sobre todo si viene del Perú, donde sólo hay tres”, dice el escritor limeño. En su opinión, los galardones sirven para tres cosas: sostener una vocación, consagrar una trayectoria o “directamente, prejubilarte”.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez Spied on by the Mexican Secret Service

El Pais is reporting that newly released documents show that between 1967 and 1985, Garcia Marquez was spied on by the Mexican Secret Service. Of note is the interest that the Mexican’s had in Garcia Marquez’s relations with Mitterand and leftwing groups. Possibly more inflamatory is the claim that he was helping the movement of arms between Cuba and leftwing groups in Latin America.

Acording to the information obatined by the news paper [El Universal], the spies for the Mexican Government assured that the writer was “involved in the trafic of arms between Cuba to Columbia and was helping the communist struggle in Latin America.

Según las informaciones obtenidas por el periódico, los espías del gobierno mexicano aseguraban que el escritor estaba “involucrado en el tráfico de armas que salía de Cuba a Colombia y que apoyaba la lucha comunista en América Latina”.

The State of American Fiction – Clancy Martin on Bookworm

Bookworm had an excellent discussion about American Fiction and culture recently. Ostensively, the show was about Clancy Martin’s new book, How to Sell, but the interview was more wide ranging, yet incisive and to the point (not something that Silverblatt always achieves). It was particularly insightful when positing that the ethical and intellectual works in fiction are more concerned with shock than anything else. The focus has led to the use of the serial killer as an over used literary device.

Well worth the listen.

Alvaro Uribe and Cristina Rivera-Garza on Bookworm

KCRW’s Bookworm has an excellent interview with Uribe and Cristina Rivera-Garza about their new book Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction (Dalkey Archive). It is an interesting conversation about the state of Mexican fiction, especially for post Boom authors. One of the good things about the book is that it is bilingual, a rarity in fiction.  It is definitely a book worth reading and an interview worth listening to.

Reading Fiction at the Hugo House

It has been years since I’ve gotten around to reading something in public. Usually, readings are either poetry centric, which makes sense since it is a short format and you can get a lot of people cycling through the stage and you don’t have to concentrate too long on any one thing. Or the reading feels like some sort of comedy fest. Again, poetry lends it self to this. Even if you write 3000 word, 5 minutes translates to a fourth of a story. If I had fifteen minutes…well you do the math.

I did decide after reading for five minutes, getting a few laughs were they were expected, that the real role of these readings is not to air out your latest piece, which I’m not so sure really matters without feedback (this is Seattle so there’s none of that), but to practice acting out the readings. Back before TV and perhaps a little too much seriousness, even great authors like Dickens would give dramatic readings of their works. Too few do that now. But if you are not writing a novel of ideas, why not. At least it will be entertaining.  We will see how that works out in practice next month.

New Words Without Borders

A new Words Without Borders has been published, focusing on international journalism:

This month we present eyewitness accounts from around the world. In the spirit of the great Ryszard Kapuściński, our contributors record far more than just the facts, blending genres and filing dispatches from both political and literary frontlines. From the killing fields of Cambodia to the swarming streets of Tehran, on the ground and in the trenches, the writers here chronicle the news of the world with artful urgency. See how Nanni Balestrini, Karl-Markus Gauss, Gébé, Elham Gheytanchi, Peter Fröberg Idling, Wojciech Jagielski, Erwin Koch, François Vallejo, and Abdourahman Waberi deliver news that stays news

A New Unpublished Bolaño Short Story

60Watts, a relatively new Spanish language literary journal, has published an as yet unpublished short story by Roberto Bolaño, El contorno del ojo (The Contour of the Eye). The story was presented at a literary contest in Valencia in the 80’s so Bolaño could earn some money. Perhaps it is good. I haven’t had time to read it, not translate anything from it.

You can read the story at 60Watts and read a short article in La Vanguardia, all in Spanish.

Mexican Novelest Mario Bellatin Profiled in the New York Times

The New York times has a moderately sized profile of Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin. It is a little hard to say if I want to read his work, but it looks like he may becoming a little more known.

In one index of his growing international reputation, Mr. Bellatin recently signed a multibook deal with Gallimard, the prestigious French publisher, that calls for his next several works to be issued in France before they appear in Spanish in Latin America. As usual he has seized on that opportunity to make mischief: rather than publish his original manuscript here, he intends to have someone else render the French translation back into Spanish.

I will be curios to see if he creates his own language. As the quote below notes, so many writers are said to have created their own language and I find they very rarely do.

“I am enamored of and very much struck by his way of managing to condense narrative down to a very minimal form of expression, so that at his best, every word is sealed with more weight, suggestiveness, meaning and poetry,” Mr. Goldman said. “Everyone talks about inventing your own language, but he really does it. Every Mario Bellatin book is like a toy, dark, radiant and bristling, like a Marcel Duchamp construction in words.”

Some older critics in Mexico have little use for Mr. Bellatin’s transgressive style and seem flummoxed by his blurring of fiction and reality. “I try not to be involved in any literary group,” Mr. Bellatin said, noting that “my books are most warmly received not here in Mexico but abroad, in Argentina and France.”

Manuel Sánchez Wins 6.000 Euros for 1 Sudden Fiction

El País reports that Manuel Sánchez has won the 2nd SER Sudden Fiction Contest (edición del concurso de microrrelatos de la SER). Here it is in its entirety:

I recognized the look in the photo. It was the same pig from the alley. The cop nodded his head and gave the photo to the other cop. ‘Write an order to find and capture him,’ he said. The next week they called me to pick him from a line up. They put me behind a window and five guys came in. ‘Which one of them?’ they asked me. I doubted for a moment, but after examining the eyes of all of them I was clear: ‘The one in the blue shirt.’ The other four left, but I followed the one in the red shirt to his house. I took out my scissors and said, ‘Do you remember me?’

“Entonces reconocí la mirada de la fotografía. Era aquel cerdo del callejón. El policía asintió con la cabeza y le dio el retrato a otro agente. ‘Dicta una orden de busca y captura’, le dijo. A la semana siguiente, me llamaron para una rueda de reconocimiento. Me pusieron tras un cristal y entraron cinco hombres. ‘¿Cuál de ellos lo hizo?’, me preguntaron. Dudé un instante, pero después de examinar los ojos de todos lo tuve claro: ‘El de la camisa azul’. A los otros cuatro los soltaron, pero yo seguí al del jersey rojo hasta su casa. Saqué las tijeras y le dije: ‘¿Te acuerdas de mí?”.

Alberto Fuguet: from Film to Literature, the Hybrid Case of a Writer

La Jornada has an interview with the Chilean Author  Alberto Fuguet is a younger author who as a proponent of Mc Hondo has looked to turn away from the over saturated magical realism that came to define Latin American Literature. His book Shorts is available in English and is a mix of story telling methods, some leaning towards the cinematic and the interview makes it obvious that it is one of his focuses. He does have a new book out:

At the beginning of the year he published a new book in most of Latin America and Spain, a novel “mounted”by Fuguet, My Body Es a Cell, which is an autobiography of Andrés Caicedo, a Columbian cult writer whose book has continued to be the best selling book in Columbia.

A inicios del año, salió en la mayoría de los países de América Latina y España, la novela “montada” por Fuguet, Mi cuerpo es una celda, autobiografía de Andrés Caicedo, escritor colombiano de culto, cuyo libro se ha mantenido como el mejor vendido en ese país sudamericano

The interview covers several themes. First, he talks about hos he wished he could direct films instead of write, yet he isn’t interested in being a screen writer either. He has created a website for hosting independent videos. He has also made several short films.

Second, he talks about what he sees the role of the blog and the new media. It is refreshing for an author not to see it as just another means  of publicity, or a half way step to print.

I think that there are people in the virtual world who are very shy and unknown who write very personal things in their blogs; the people who are less shy use the virtual as a type of trampoline to eventually publish on paper. I am sure that there is a Kafka, a Pavesse, and people like that hidden on the web and that we are going to discover them latter. My idea of a blog is to help myself, to help others, as breaking the circle of books, in my case I see that my books come from the same planet.

Creo que lo que hay virtual es de gente muy tímida y muy desconocida, que escribe en sus blogs cosas muy personales; la gente que es menos tímida lo usa como una especie de trampolín para eventualmente llegar al papel. Estoy seguro de que hay un Kafka, un Pavesse, y hay gente así escondida en la red y que vamos a descubrirlo después. Mi idea del blog es apoyarme, apoyar a otros, como romper el círculo de los libros, en mi caso yo veo que mis libros vienen como del mismo planeta.

Finally, he talks about Rulfo and Bolaño.

Rulfo is super global writer, super preliminary, who seems very interesting to me. In general I have voices and companions that interest me. In the future perhaps one should find that not all of the world is Latin American. I am interested in everything hybrid, like chronicles; in Andrés Caicedo, the Argentine Fabián Casas, or what the small presses are doing.

I think that Blaño is a hybrid writer, but one that has the respect of intellectuals. He is very pop, has a much more mixed world…Rather than writing about a nostalgic Argentine exiled to Paris, he wrote about Mexicans or Spaniards. He dared to with other passports. He took on voices that were not his and transformed them.

Rulfo es un escritor súper global, súper liminar, me parece muy interesante. En general tengo voces y compañeros de ruta que me interesan. En el futuro habría que analizar que no todo el mundo es latinoamericano. Estoy interesado en todo lo híbrido, como crónicas; en Andrés Caicedo, en el argentino Fabián Casas, o en lo que se está haciendo en las editoriales pequeñas.

Siento que Bolaño es un escritor bien híbrido, pero que logró tener respeto intelectual; es súper pop, tiene un mundo mucho más mestizo […] Más que escribir de un argentino exiliado nostálgico en París, él escribía sobre mexicanos o españoles, se atrevía escribir con otros pasaportes. Logró meterse en voces que no eran las suyas y las transformó.

José Emilio Pacheco and Elena Poniatowska in La Jornada

There is an excellent, if writterly, appreciation of José Emilio Pacheco in this Sunday’s cultural supplement in La Jornada. It is certainly worth a read if you have an interest and know Spanish. Pacheco is the author of Las batellas en el desierto (The Battles in the Desert) which I reviewed sometime ago and remains one of my most popular posts. Poniatowska focuses on three things: his relation to the past; why young people are so dedicated to him; and what has made him the writer he is. On the first count he is an other of memory but not nostalgia: “José Emilio cree en la memoria, a la nostalgia la repudia.”  Which Poniatowska points out in quoting from the end of Batallas en el desierto

They demolished the school, they demolished Mariana’s building, they demolished my house, they demolished the Roma neighborhood. That city is gone. That country is gone. There isn’t any memory of Mexico form those years. And it doesn’t bother anyone: who wants to remember that horror? Everything goes like the records on a record player. I will never know if Mariana is still living. If she was a live she’d be 70.

Demolieron la escuela, demolieron el edificio de Mariana, demolieron mi casa, demolieron la colonia Roma. Se acabó esa ciudad. Terminó aquel país. No hay memoria del México de aquellos años. Y a nadie le importa: de ese horror, quién puede tener nostalgia. Todo pasó como pasan los discos en la sinfonola. Nunca sabré si aún vive Mariana. Si viviera tendría sesenta años.”

Second, the youth like Pacheco because he is like them and respects them. Part of this is his focus on youth and part of it his willingness to meet with them. When his conferences have filled up he has given two conferences, one in the conference hall and the other outside where the students are waiting for him.

The young who still live their memories of childhood find themselves in El viento distate, El pricipio del placer, Las batallas en el desierto (The Battles in the Desert) and through Condesa neighboorhod of Moriras lefjos and they celebrate the novelist and short story writer with never ending gratitude. It is rare to feel gratitude for a living writer but Jose Emilio gathers all their devotions. When the boy Carlos in Los batallas en el desierto confesses, “I never thought that Jim’s mother was that young, that elegant, least of all that beautiful. I didn’t know how to tell him. I can’t describe what I felt when she shook my hand,” readers relive the torment of their first love. The same occurs with the stories in La sangre de Medusa written between 1956 and 1984. Jose Emilio touches fibers in which they recognize themselves, in which you and him and I and we identify with. On reading it, everyone rewrites “Tarde o remparano”. His is ours. We make the book with him, we are his part, he changes us into authors, he reflects us, he keeps us in mind, he completes us, and the reading takes away our problems. We owe him being readers, as much as we owe him for life.

According to him, those truly unhappy loves, those terrible loves are amongst the young because they have no hope. “In any part of your life you have some little possibility of reuniting with the person you love, but when you are young your history of love has no future.”

Los jóvenes que todavía viven sus recuerdos de infancia se encuentran a sí mismos en El viento distante, El principio del placer, Las batallas en el desierto y hasta en la colonia Condesa de Morirás lejos y le brindan al novelista y al cuentista un testimonio de gratitud interminable. Es raro sentir gratitud por un escritor vivo pero José Emilio reúne todas las devociones. Cuando el niño Carlos de Las batallas en el desierto confiesa: “Nunca pensé que la madre de Jim fuera tan joven, tan elegante y sobre todo tan hermosa. No supe qué decirle. No puedo describir lo que sentí cuando ella me dio la mano”, los lectores reviven el tormento de su primer amor. Lo mismo sucede con los cuentos de La sangre de Medusa escritos de 1956 a 1984. José Emilio toca fibras en las que se reconocen, en las que tú y él y yo, ustedes y nosotros nos identificamos. Al leerlo, cada quién escribe de nuevo “Tarde o temprano”. Lo suyo es nuestro. Hacemos el libro con él, somos su parte, nos convierte en autores, nos refleja, nos toma en cuenta, nos completa, nos quita lo manco, lo cojo, lo tuerto, lo bisoño. Le debemos a él ser lectores, por lo tanto le debemos a él la vida.

Según él, los amores verdaderamente desdichados, los amores terribles son los de los niños porque no tienen ninguna esperanza. “En cualquier otra época de tu vida puedes tener alguna mínima posibilidad de reunirte con la persona que amas, pero cuando eres niño tu historia de amor no tiene porvenir.”

Finally, he is a writer whose history has been influenced by some of the greats of 20th century Mexican Writing. Moreover, his family had been part of the great events of the 20th century, his father escaping execution only through the intervention of President Obregon.

Some of these family friendships were liberal like Juan de la Cabada and Hector Perez Martinez and most of all Jose Vasconcelos. Carlos Monsivais remembers that Jose Emilio used to invite him to eat at his house and they would both listen seriously and quietly to Vasconcelos, an absolutely fascinating personality. Together they would also go to visit Martin Luis Guzman who both of them admired, and don Julio Torri who would tell them in a low voice the secret history of Mexican pornography.

Algunas de esas amistades familiares eran libertarias, como Juan de la Cabada y Héctor Pérez Martínez, y sobre todo José Vasconcelos. Carlos Monsiváis recordó que José Emilio lo invitaba a comer a su casa y ambos escuchaban muy serios y callados a Vasconcelos, personalidad absolutamente fascinante. Juntos iban a visitar también a Martín Luis Guzmán, que es una de las admiraciones de los dos, y don Julio Torri les hablaba en voz baja de la historia secreta de la pornografía mexicana.