The State of the Argentinean E-book Market at Publishing Perspectives

Publishing Perspectives has an overview of the Argentine e-book market which even if you don’t care much about e-books explains why Latin America can tire of Spain’s imprint in its culture. You would think it would be easy to get Spanish language books from any Spanish speaking author in Latin America, but it is far from the reality. This exists some what between the US and the UK, but no where near this level.  It is over stating the issue to say the Spanish Empire still exists, but for some it can feel that way.

In spite of this sorry situation, publishers have started to realize, mainly because of the news coming from the U.S. and Europe, that e-books will eventually rule their business. That is one of the reasons why in late 2009 the Argentinean Book Chamber commissioned a piece of research with the goal of putting forward solutions for the digitization challenge. Although the final report was very inspiring, to date there has been no further collective initiatives, and the publishing sector has remained pretty much in the same spot where it was last year.

Truth be told, we could say that publishers in Argentina seem to envisage the digital age more with panic than with eagerness, which explains why no traditional company has made any real effort to take advantage of this new era. As a matter of fact, this attitude is not imprudent at all, since, in my view, migration from analog to digital in the Argentinean book market will be far from simple. Let’s first think of the typical family business, run by a senior publisher who is helped by his sons and even by his grandsons. Who will be able to talk the old man into getting rid of the warehouse, hiring programmers, buying software licenses and so on? And who, once again, will persuade him of the importance of digitizing, converting to EPUB and distributing the whole backlist online, when there are other more pressing matters, such as paying the rent, salaries and other expenses?

Apart from small and medium sized companies managed like family businesses, we also find resistance among big publishing houses. So far, their refusal to fully embrace the digital age stems from their fear against piracy: how would they protect their titles if PDFs start to wander around the web with no control whatsoever? On the other hand, big Argentinean publishing companies generally are the local branch of a much bigger corporation whose headquarters are located in the U.S. or in Europe, mainly in Spain. And because of their particular structure, major publishing houses in Argentina willing to experiment with new technologies are forced to wait until the head office abroad allows them to do so, a process that can be slow and thus discouraging. Recently, the main Spanish publishing companies decided to launch their own site together with their branches all over Latin America, a move that has fueled fierce debates and which, in my view, is not going to be successful.

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.

Lovely Loneliness (Amorosa Soledad) – A Review

Lovely Loneliness is a sweet film of broken romance and the loneliness that follows. Following the Soledad (Inés Efron) as she slowly gets over her boy friend who dumped her, the movie isn’t concerned with plot, but the interior life of Soledad. Soledad isn’t morose, though. Far from it. She goes about her life with a certain style that lets her survive. She is also a little strange. She is probably a hypochondriac. There are many scenes of her going to the doctor’s office or checking her blood pressure with her home blood pressure machine. Between the scenes of her loneliness in her apartment and those of her medical preoccupations, Soledad is a captivating mix of the lost and the eccentric. Efron’s portrayal is excellent and she is quite captivating. The film is funny, too, but jokes are not the point. Instead, it is the slight melancholy that seems to be just off screen as if Soledad was just barely surviving, that makes the movie enjoyable. For a first film, it is a solid movie and one worth watching.