The Best Short Story Collections in Spanish Over the Last 5 Years

The ever excellent blog El sindrome Chejov recently polled a series of Spanish language short story authors about what they thought were the best collections of short stories to be published over the last five years. It is a broad ranging list that includes authors English speakers would probably be familiar with, such as Alice Munro and Lydia Davis. Of interest to me were the books originally written in Spanish (I’m already sufficiently familiar with the English speakers). Some of these I’ve heard of and in a few cases I’ve even read some of the books. I certainly agree with some of the choices and am looking forward to finding some new authors.

The three most cited authors were Juan Eduardo Zúñiga, Alice Munro and Ángel Olgoso. However, I saw many references to Javier Sáez de Ibarra, Andres Neuman’s Hacerse el muerto (read my review), and Smanta Schweblin’s Pajaros en la boca, a book that I am looking forward to reading soon. Miguel Ángel Muñoz’s list is of particular interest especially since he has read 250 collections over the last 5 years. I also thought Miguel Ángel Zapata’s was interesting because it listed the writers and their approaches which gives you a little context. Lest the embarrassment of riches make you think things are all rosy over there, Muñoz does end his survey with a complaint that could be easily leveled here in the states:

Buenos libros y buena labor editorial. Mejora sensible en la atención de los medios. …Y pocos lectores. En un país con desesperantes bajos índices de lectura -disfrazados por la atención mayoritaria a unos pocos libros populares- pero con una media de cuatro horas diarias ante la televisión, el cuento, que requiere de un predisposición particular y una educación del gusto para disfrutar de sus resortes narrativos, tan distintos a los de la novela, no puede salir bien parado. Aun así, sigo pensando que el cuento posee un poder que nuestro sistema educativo no ha sabido aprovechar. Aún. Confío en centenares de profesores de bachillerato que van descubriendo, y difundiendo, las posibilidades que el relato corto ofrece para introducir a los alumnos en el placer de la literatura y, todavía más, en el mejor conocimiento y explicación de materias distintas de las estrictamente literarias. Historia o Filosofía, para empezar (¿se sigue estudiando eso en Bachillerato?).

From Zapata’s comment:

En la última década, el cuento español abandona las trincheras incómodas del gueto y comienza el lento acomodo en las mesas de novedades y en las reseñas de los diarios nacionales. Eso es un hecho; lento y a gotas, pero un hecho: llueve. Ya se ha apuntado muchas veces antes la labor encomiable y de zapa de editoriales especializadas en el género como Menoscuarto, Páginas de Espuma, Salto de Página, Tropo, Traspiés o Cuadernos del Vigía. Pero cabe anotar igualmente la proliferación de espacios en la blogosfera que promueven la expansión de los géneros breves y su rápida recepción por un público silente aunque masivo tras la pantalla del ordenador. En cuanto a las direcciones que asume el cuento actual, es precisamente la heterogeneidad de propuestas la clave para entender su auge: el terror contemporáneo entreverado de cierto apego a la sobriedad realista del cuento norteamericano en la obra de Jon Bilbao, la relectura del fantástico desde posiciones especulativas o metafísicas (en tres maestros del género en su estado más puro: Ángel Olgoso, Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel, Manuel Moyano), la experimentación formal en la renovación que parte del fantástico hacia territorios que lindan con lo telúrico (la portentosa cuentística de lo inaudito plausible que desarrolla David Roas), la orfebrería impresionista de altísimo octanaje literario (Óscar Esquivias, Jesús Ortega), lo cotidiano transfigurado (Miguel Ángel Muñoz, Andrés Neuman y Ernesto Calabuig, que hacen virtuosismo genuino de la lectura entre líneas y la fuerza emocional de las historias), el lirismo surreal (Juan Carlos Márquez en su estupendo “Llenad la tierra”, todo un despliegue talentoso de recursos y técnica)… Si a ello sumamos el trabajo de fondo de maestros contemporáneos que siguen trabajando el género aportando periódicamente nuevas obras de impronta clásica y generosos ejercicios de estilo (Merino, Calcedo, Aramburu, Díez, Aparicio, Fernández Cubas, Peri Rossi…), da la sensación de políptico generacional completo, de relevo asegurado y estupenda salud del género, como certifica el análisis que hizo del cuento en 2011 el artículo del crítico Ricardo Senabre para el último número del “El Cultural” el año pasado. Otra cosa, por supuesto, es la flexibilidad de mercado, distribuidores y librerías en el sostenimiento de títulos suficientes de un género que siempre supone un quebradero de cabeza para las editoriales que funcionan con la calculadora y la cuenta de resultados ante la mesa. Mientras siga chispeando…”

If you are interested in the short story, these 7 posts are worth skimming through.

  1. First
  2. Second
  3. Third
  4. Fourth
  5. Fifth
  6. Sixth
  7. Seventh
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My Article on Four UnTranslated Short Stories Is Up at the Quarterly Conversation

My article about four untranslated Spanish short story writers is now up at the Quarterly Conversation. It turned out really well and is a much longer form article than I normally write coming in at a little over 3K words. While I think the stories mentioned in the article are great I had to leave out so many different ones that it seems at times I haven’t written that much. Writing about short stories is always hard because you end up with some many different ones and you have to try come up with some sort of thematic element to link them together. This was esspecially the case with these four, but I think I was able to do it.

Collections of short stories are generally considered difficult to market, and thus they’re often looked down upon by editors who acquire new works of literature in the United States. This fact is no less true when it comes to editors who acquire works of foreign literature translated into English, an already notably under-represented group. To make matters worse, what stories that do get translated are often lumped into anthologies of what you might call stories from over there, which obscure the full range of an author’s talent beneath the idea that one story is a representative sample.

This is all very important in the case of Spanish literature, which in recent decades has seen a rebirth of the possibilities of the short story. For authors of what’s called the New Spanish Short Story, this tendency has hidden a great burst of creativity that began in the early 1980s and flowered during the 1990s and 2000s (the few stories that have been translated have been relegated to obscure editions unavailable in the United States). From the stories of the fantastic by Cristina Fernádez Cubas to the structural inventions of Hipólito G. Navarro and the surrealism of Ángel Zapata, Spanish short story writers have created an exciting and diverse body of work marked by its openness and dedication to pushing the boundaries of the form.

I  have also commented on other stories from Navarro and Cubas. The rest of the Quarterly Conversation looks very good, too, and definately worth reading. They have a nicely timed overview of the works of Mercè Rodoreda. (You my reviews of Death in Spring and her short stories)

La vida ausente (The Absent Life) by Ángel Zapata – A Brief Review

La vida ausente
Ángel Zapata
Paginas de Espuma, 2006, pg 98

Again, I can’t say too much about the book, as it is the last of the four I’m reading for an article on Spanish short story writers. That said, this is one crazy book, filled with surrealistic stories that veer from one contrasting image to another and leaves you on first read wondering what just happened. In one story for example, there are fish headed people, dancing corkscrews and tops, flying egg plants, and great belly button in the sky that every one mistakes as God. If my favorite passage in the book, the belly button appears in the sky and the people say, it’s God. Instead, God drives up in his Porsche and says, that’s not God, word. And the people say, the word of God. At times his story takes on the touch of Fellini, at others it is a touching sentimental piece with father and son that twists strangely. Interspersed between are little fragments of juxtapositions that read like something out of Tender Buttons. And yet, the first 30 pages are the most nostalgic piece about late 70s early 80s Madrid I have ever read. La vida ausente is an intreging book.  I can’t wait to read the interview with him at El sindrome Chejov to see what he has to say about this work.  I can’t wait to write more about him for the article. It should be a lot of fun.

Short Stories from Andrés Neuman, Ángel Zapata and José María Merino

The magazine Cuentos para el andén (Stories for the bus stop) just released its first issue. In it are stories from Andrés Neuman’ newest book, Ángel Zapata and José María Merino. It looks like a nice idea to have a couple brief stories come out every month. I don’t think any of the stories are more than 4000 words, which is perfect for the bus stop. Also included is a short story from José María Merino who is a graduate of a writing program. I’m quite cruious to see what the story is like given the criticism that is often leveled at writing programs in the US.

Read the magazine (pdf).

(via)

A Short Story from Ángel Zapata with My Translation

The blog El sindrome Chejov has has a published the sort story Ecuador Ángel Zapata’s latest book Las buenas intenciones y otros cuentos. You can read the original at El sindrome, but here is my translation of the piece.

You place a bone, perhaps from a giant, on the table cloth, my child: at lunch time, at dinner time, at the sad and meticulous hour of breakfast; you place that bone with a casual gesture that could be mistaken for mercy (three bones at the end of the day, I don’t know if  it’s different); and latter you stay there, coming closer to the fire, looking at the bone of a giant on the table cloth, child; like fasting with the hunger of another; the same as if you try to cry with that hard and yellow weeping, empty inside, your mother the same as myself would not have known how to ever show you.

Update (9/7/2011) this is  a different author below, Miguel Ángel Zapata. I got confused by the names. Thanks to Luis for the clarification.

If you are not familiar with Zapata here is what El sindrome noted in his recent review of Esquina inferior del cuadro.

Los cuentos de Zapata están llenos de marcas de estilo. Un estilo profundamente pensado, que no gustará a todos los lectores, pero que busca -y logra- una voz auténtica y personal, reconocible. Ahí está su riesgo y su belleza. Esparce por todos los relatos puntos suspensivos que remarcan las elipsis en cuyos márgenes se construyen  sus narraciones. Gesto gallardo: quiere decir, os cuento esto pero podría contaros todo lo que callo, lo que esos puntos esconden, lo que el escritor-astrónomo tiene que desechar para preferir su historia, que no es sino una elección que sólo a él pertenece y que comparte con sus lectores, porque así lo quiere, no porque lo necesite.