The Children of the Boom Generation Talk About What it Means to Them

El Pais had a couple articles this week on the Boom. The most interesting were the brief quotes from younger writers reflecting on what the Boom has meant to them, good or bad. I like to see a few criticisms of the terms and celebrations of certain elements. (emphasis mine)

Damián Tabarovsky (Argentina, 1967)

El boom retoma la ilusión de que el escritor latinoamericano tiene que tener algo de for export, de very typical (Bolaño es el último avatar del boom) con algunas gotitas de denuncia social y pasteurización de tradiciones locales. A la vez, introduce la novedad de que para ser escritor, o aún peor, hombre de letras, hace falta tener a una Carmen Balcells, o alguien como Carmen Balcells, o a muchos como Carmen Balcells; expresa el momento en que Barcelona comenzó a volverse sede del poder económico editorial en castellano; informa sobre la necesidad del mercadeo de izquierda como paradigma de la figura mediática del escritor latinoamericano (García Marketing, como lo llamaba Fogwill). Lamentablemente no aprendí demasiado de esas cosas. O por la negativa, tal vez sí, mucho. Algo más: hace poco releí Pedro Páramo y Tratados en La Habana, casi antagónicos y ambos notables.

Yuri Herrera (México, 1970)

Quizá lo primero es lo que los mismos escritores del boom aprendieron de los modernistas: que la voluntad de estilo define la mirada sobre la realidad y la fuerza de su narrativa. Que la del boom, entre otras cosas, adolece de ser una lista compuesta casi exclusivamente por hombres. Que un fenómeno mercadotécnico a veces solo es eso, y a veces se aprovecha de algo evidente, como que la mejor literatura en lengua española ya se estaba escribiendo en el continente americano. Que un buen escritor no necesariamente es una autoridad moral: algunos de los que escribieron las mejores novelas del siglo XX también plagiaron el trabajo de otros, sostuvieron amistades con dictadores, justificaron invasiones injustificables y subordinaron sus opiniones políticas a las necesidades de sus patrocinadores. Que una buena novela sobrevive a las mezquindades de sus autores e inclusive a su propio éxito.

Andrés Neuman (Argentina, 1977)

Ninguna etiqueta explica la realidad, pero algunas la mutilan hasta volverla incomprensible. De eso que llamamos boom aprendí el abismo entre los rótulos y las obras. ¿Qué tiene que ver Lezama con Onetti? ¿Por qué García Márquez (1927) y Vargas Llosa (1936) sí, mientras Puig (1932) no? ¿Hasta cuándo maestros como Di Benedetto o Ribeyro seguirán fuera de la foto? ¿Por qué no figuran poetas, habiéndolos brillantes? ¿No resulta sospechoso que ni siquiera Elena Garro, Silvina Ocampo o Clarice Lispector aparezcan en tan viriles listas? De eso que llamamos boom admiro la ambición estética de sus autores, que me hace pensar en la infinitud de la escritura; y recelo de sus mesianismos políticos, que me hacen pensar en la patología del liderazgo. Entre tanta generalización, dos décadas de textos extraordinarios. Tan grandes que merecen ser leídos como por primera vez, desordenando los manuales.

Antonio Muñoz Molina has an interesting memory of meeting Onetti, a writer who is not usually listed in the boom.

And on the publication of Luis Harss’ collection of interviews,  Los nuestros, with Boom era writers, there is a lengthy profile and excerpt.

All the Boom one needs for the week.

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Trailer of Alberto Fuguet’s New Movie Musica Campesina

The trailer for Alberto Fuguet’s new movie is out. Acording to Moleskin Literario it has been shown at festivals with good reviews. This is a bilingual film, so if you only speak English, about 50 seconds in you’ll start hearing English.

A Conversation with Alberto Fuguet – At El Pais With My Question

El Pais had one of their “Chats with the author” events where you can submit a question and the author may answer it. So far I’ve had my questions answered both times I’ve done it. Some of the questions are about his film work, but many are about his recent book Missing: an Investigation. Below is my rather technical one to try and understand the process he went through to create the book.

¿Cuantos conversaciones tenías con Carlos sobre su vida al escribir esta obra? Los detalles son impresionantes y partes como la noche entre Carlos y el marinero son muy emotivas. A mí me llama la atención este poder de dibujar su vida aunque no pudiste entrevistarle como querrías.

tuve hartas— y esas conversaciones q no son conversaciones sino comentarios al pasar.. lo de la grabadora, fue fatal… no resulto… la parte a q te refieres, al poema como le dicen, carlos talks, creo q se llama, se hizo de una curiosa: le envie como 1500 preguntas en, no se, 70 a 100 mails, y fui armando una cronlogia-biografia. Asi tenia miles de detalles. Pero “secos”. Onda– te has intentado matarte? y decia, una vez.. nada mas: luego yo: donde, como,… y luego te decia, me salvo un marinero… etc y yo luego fui rellenando los detalles q no existian y tratando de pensar q sentiria uno, no se, cdo roba un auto o cdo sales de prision etc creo q nada es capaz de contar tantos detalles o sensaciones– las sensaciones se sienten intensamente en el momento y luego se olvidan— literariamente se pueden reproducir

Missing (una investigacion) by Alberto Fuguet – A Review

Missing (una investigacion) /Missing (My Uncle’s Story) (Spanish Edition)
Alberto Fuguet
Alfaguara, 2010 pg 386

Alberto Fuguet’s Missing (una investigacion) is one of the most interesting books I’ve read for sometime. In it Fuguet continues his explorations of modern life, the interchange of culture between Latin America and the United States, and the mixing of genres that have marked books like Shorts, and applies those elements to his own family, examining what made his Uncle Carlos disappear, to go missing. More than an immigrant narrative, more than a critique of American society, Missing is the story of a man never quite lives the American dream, but lives a life that is all too American.

Carlos Fuguet is one of three sons of a Chilean patriarch who moves the family to the United States in the early 1960s after his fortunes change and he his forced to drive a taxi. The father is a tough and proud man and the thought of driving a taxi is impossible to accept. He moves the family to the US even though that means moving his teenage boys to a country where they don’t speak much English. Carlos, who had always been the good student, the one expected to succeed, soon finds himself adrift. After high school he works as a busy boy in a hotel near LA’s airport and living in a dive in Hollywood since he can’t stand his parents. It is a lonely experience and in one of the more moving episodes he breaks down crying on the Santa Monica pier. A young American sailor comforts him and Carlos says at that moment he finally lost his fear, the fear that had come form being a stranger and alone. Yet that loneliness and living on the margin in dives will follow him throughout his life. Even in the early chapters it is obvious that Carlos finds the need to escape, to be away from his family, especially his father, at all costs.

To understand Carlos, one has to know more about his father. He is a cold man who holds his family at a distance. In a telling moment early on, when Alerto is relating his experiences with the man his grandfather says, “No me tratas de tu. No Soy tu padre…” (Don’t call me by you (familiar form), I’m not your father…). For a Spanish speaker it points to a grandfather who is cold, distant. There will be no grandfatherly indulgences. That coldness is only magnified when describing the relationship between the father and the sons. Carlos can never forgive him, nor his mother who even if she didn’t overtly side with him, always stayed with him and never defended Carlos. Later, when the Carlos’s father is dying and Carlos calls, his father says, “you are a disappointment, we never want to talk to you.” Even on his death bed the father refuses to forgive, and to make he worse he uses the we as if the rest of the family agreed with him. But it is not surprising as he is the father who said when Carlos wanted to buy a car,

tu no, no necesitas un auto,
todos necesitan un auto en los angeles, le dije,
tu no, no necesitas ir a ninuna parte,
aqui esta tu familia
quiero otras cosas que mi familia, le dije.
ah, esos amigos gringos tyuos, me dijo,
te van a arruinar

you don’t need a car,
everyone needs a car in los angeles, i told him,
you don’t need a car to go anywhere,
here is you family
i want other things than my family, i said.
ah, your gringo friends, he said,
they are going to ruin you

The argument is a typical father son argument, and shows a father that despite the successes he would have in the US, he never could see him self as an American. But the family problems run deeper than arguments between first and second generation. In an even stranger episode Alberto notes that Carlos is the second Carlos, the first one was a baby that didn’t live past 1 year. When Carlos was born he was named just like the first. One has the sense that Carlos could never quite live up to what the you Carlos might have.

From such beginnings, Carlos lives a life that is one series of disappointments. When he is 21 he marries a 17 year old and unsurprisingly the marriage lasts less than a year. Latter he marries a rich woman he meets in New Port Beach and while the relationship works, he begins to envy her money. In a fit of frustration he embezzles from a religious community so that he can take her to Vegas. He’s caught and goes to jail for the first of two stints in prison. It is from then on that he seems to live at the margins of American life, if not on the run from the police, then trying to survive the best he can. It is not an easy life and although there are moments of happiness and companionship, he lives alone moving from place to place. For awhile it seems to he has found a place in hotel management, but even that dissipates. At times he is the epitome of Americanness, pulling himself up from his bootstraps, becoming a hotel manager even though he had done two terms in jail for theft. But something always goes wrong and he is left on the margins of society. He is just unable to win.

Towards the end of the book, Alberto asks himself, for all the years he’s worked why doesn’t he have anything to show for it? After having a successful run with a hotel chain turing around troubled hotels he ends up in a run down hotel in Vegas living in a room that is filled with old fast food containers. The irony is he has been living one of the dark sides of the American dream, frittering away his money on silly things, always short on money. In one of the more telling episodes, during the 1980’s Carlos buys an expensive VCR for his father. It is an expensive piece of equipment that makes his father angry. Carlos had only good intentions in giving the VCR, but it shows complete emersion in consumer culture. Missing is not only the troubled story of a rootless immigrant, it is destructive longing for the American dream that is always one purchase away.

Missing, true to its investigative nature, is not a complete story, but one with lacuna and unanswered questions. Alberto uses different genres to approach the unanswerable from as many directions as possible. The bulk of the book is a long poem in Carlos’s voice which lets you see the story as Carlos sees it (and Alberto writes it down). He also includes personal memory, a third person history of his journey to his grandfather’s house, and the abortive first interviews he made with Carlos in a Denver Denny’s. The multiple points of view allow Alberto to comment of Carlos’s story and reveal a fuller picture of Carlos. Much of the family hatred for Carlos’s father comes from these scenes and it makes Carlos a more sympathetic character, one you can almost understand. What also comes is Alberto’s confusion, disappointment and melancholy as he learns Carlos’s life. For Alberto, Carlos had always been the cool uncle, the one who went his own way and disappeared. But that disappearing act was not as glamourous as it seemed from a distance.

One of Alberto’s skills as a writer is to use the detritus of everyday life in his works without it seeming cloying. He has always used product names in his books, but not heavy handedly like a Steven King. They are just something one comes across and occasionally mark certain societal transitions:

Estaba en Las Vegas, en contacto con el mundo, con una direccion que aparecia en Google Earth.

He was em Las Vegas, in contact with the world, with a an address that appeared in Google Earth.

In Missing his use of  this adds to the already strong element of Americanness. Not only does Carlos’s story resonate as an American story, but Alberto shows himself to be a keen observer of American life, something only someone who has lived in a country can show. It is that mix of observation and detail in telling Carlos’s story that makes the book an American story.

Alberto Fuguet considers this his most American book and he is right. Carlos is the other side of America, the one that is free to try and try again, yet it is a futile effort. It is the more than the story of an immigrant, but a story of the other America that lives at the edges of the American Dream.

You can read an excerpt of the book at the translator’s site.

First Chapter of Alberto Fuguet’s Missing in English at Ezra Fitz’s Site

Ezra Fitz, the translator of Alberto Fuguet’s Missing an Investigation, has posted the first chapter of the book on his blog. It is a sizable excerpt and I recommend that you read it. I have almost finished the book in Spanish and I have been impressed with the book. It is a book that should have a resonance with American readers and I hope a publisher will bring it out soon. Until then, you have the  generous excerpt from the translator to tide you over.

(If you would like to read some of the reviews in the foreign press that I have covered, take a look here.)

From Fitz’s intro:

The book describes the author’s search for his uncle Carlos, who left his native Chile and disappeared into the vast and expansive United States.  It’s been called an impressive reportorial look at what happens when someone becomes trapped between two cultures as well as what is lost and gained through immigration.  This hybrid story is accompanied by a hybrid text comprised of emails, interviews, fiction, memoir, and something that can only be described as a Bukowski-esque epic poem.  The best thing about this book is that it is no run of the mill sob strory or impetus for some kind of political reform.  What it is is a family story about an uncle and nephew, a prodigal sons and the margins of American society through Chilean eyes.

Here is the opening:

In 1986, my uncle Carlos Patricio Fuguet García vanished off the face of the earth.  He disappeared in Baltimore, Maryland, far from his native Santiago.  The phone calls just stopped, and letters started being returned.  A short while later, my father, his older brother, contacted his employer, a four-star hotel, and they knew nothing as to his whereabouts.  Uncle Javier, his younger brother and my godfather, managed to get in touch with the superintendent of his apartment building, who told them he was no longer living there.

That was the last we ever heard of him.

From that point on, he was gone.

Missing.

Nobody knew where he was.

Article About Alberto Fuguet’s Missing in La Tercera

La Tercera has a good article about Alberto Fuguets’ Missing. I’m looking forward to reading it in a few weeks.

Missing no es sólo literatura. No es una novela. Una investigación, se lee en el subtítulo del libro. Probablemente, Missing sea el intento de Fuguet por entender por qué su tío un día se fue y nunca volvió. Por necesidad, también es el esbozo de la biografía de ese hombre; por decisión, el registro de la trastienda de esa búsqueda que el autor de Cortos inició en 2003; por reflejo, un viaje al reverso del sueño americano y, sin duda, el retrato más honesto y descarnado que ha hecho Fuguet de su familia. Odios y reconciliaciones incluidas. Nombres y episodios reales.

“Pero esto no es una traición, no es un ajuste de cuentas, esto es un homenaje a mi familia”, precisa Fuguet. “Antes, fui irresponsable porque tiré cosas sin aviso. Quizás dañé mucho a mi familia, ya no la puedo dañar más. Este libro no es sobre el daño. Aquí pido perdón por haber sido un pendejo”, explica.

 

Mario Vargas Llosa Gives Alberto Fuguet’s Missing a Rave Review in El Pais

I’ve been looking forward to reading Alberto Fuguet’s Missing for sometime now and with Mario Vargas Llosa’s rave review in El Pais I think it is a book worth reading. Most of what I’ve liked of Fuguet has been interesting so I have high hopes that this one will be good, especially if it is as Vargas Llosa says, his best book. I had toyed with reading it in English since it will probably be coming out at sometime in the near future. However, the book is filled with Anglicisms and that makes it sound more important to read it in the original.

Ahora que estuve en Chile descubrí que Alberto Fuguet había tenido la misma idea, con un tío también desaparecido, pero no en París sino en los Estados Unidos, y que él sí la había llevado a la práctica en un libro divertido, triste, posmoderno y audaz, que acabo de leer de un tirón: Missing (Una investigación). Se lo puede llamar una novela, porque este género es un cajón de sastre donde todo cabe, y porque Fuguet cuenta la historia de su desaparecido tío Carlos Fuguet, hermano de su padre, con técnicas y lenguaje novelescos, pero su libro es también muchas otras cosas y en eso reside su mayor atractivo: el testimonio de una búsqueda casi policial de un oscuro personaje extraviado en la oceánica sociedad norteamericana; la historia de una familia chilena de inmigrantes en California; una autobiografía parcial y la confesión de un escritor sobre los demonios personales que lo incitan a fantasear y la manera, entre racional, espontánea y casual, en que escribe sus libros. Pero Missinges sobre todo algo que, estoy seguro, su autor no se propuso nunca que fuera y que es, tal vez, su mayor logro: las ilusiones, éxitos y derrotas de los latinoamericanos que se fugan a los Estados Unidos en pos del sueño americano. Dudo que algún historiador o sociólogo haya mostrado de manera tan vívida y persuasiva ese trance dramático del desarraigo de las familias de origen hispano de su suelo natal y su difícil implantación en su tierra de adopción, con éxitos agridulces, esfuerzos denodados, añoranza tenaz y, a veces, frustración y tragedias domésticas. El sueño americano es una realidad, sin duda, pero para una minoría, en tanto que para muchísimos otros es apenas un limbo mediocre, y, para otra minoría, un infierno.

[…]

Muchas partes del libro están escritas en un español mechado de anglicismos que, por instantes, parece a punto de convertirse en un spanglish, sin que ello llegue a ocurrir. Por el contrario, pasado un primer momento de desconcierto, este lenguaje, que no es, claro está, el de los hispanos de California, sino una recreación literaria del que muchos de ellos hablan, es de un encanto poético notable, una demostración de la formidable capacidad que tiene el español, en manos de un escribidor con talento, para metamorfosearse en tantas cosas sin perder su propia personalidad. Este estilo no es una caricatura ni un preciosismo formalista, es un estilo persuasivo y funcional, porque delata a través de su manera de hablar lo que son quienes así se expresan, la inseguridad que los habita, el inconcluso mestizaje cultural y lingüístico que constituyen, los dos mundos que hay en ellos coexistiendo con aspereza y sin llegar a fundirse.