El último libro de Sergi Pámies (Sergi Pámies’ Last Book) by Sergi Pámies – A Review

El último libro de Sergi Pámies (Sergi Pámies’ Last Book)
Version del autor
Sergi Pámies
Anagrama, 2000, pg 139

Sergi Pámies is a Catalan short story writer, novelist and journalist whose work has been widely translated in Europe but has yet to have a collection come out in English yet. He’s probably as well known in Spain and Cataluña for his essays in La Vanguardia, a Spanish language daily in Barcelona. El último libro de Sergi Pámies is the Spanish translation of L’últim llibre de Sergi Pámies, originally written in Catalan and apparently translated by the author. (Typically I don’t read translations into Spanish, but this is the only way to get access to his books, which I’ve been interested in reading every since I saw an interview with him in 2010.)

Pámies work does have some similarities to the Catalan author Quim Monzo in that there is a humor, always a little dark, and an interest in parable like stories that push the characters to desperate paradoxes. While Pámies tends towards the fantastical, the collection opens with the wrenching El precio. One breakfast a son endures his father’s assault of tired and over used sayings all of which culminates in the phrase, everyone has his price. Later when the son calls his father to check on how he is, the son hears the father talking to his wife who has died years before. The son realizes as he is surrounded by the people passing through the train station living seemingly normal lives, that his price is falling and that his next step, that of playing along with his father, diminishes his price. It is an astute story, whose brevity captures the changing roles of father and son: from the adversarial when the son was young and striking out on his own and the father his own powerful figure; to that of the caretaker relationship that requires him to become something different, something that goes against his nature and diminishes his self worth.

La máquina de hacer cosquillas also has the same touch of melancholy loss as a father returns to the same book store he has frequented with his young daughter. He hopes to get in and buy something quickly without the old clerk noticing him. He fails and she sees him. Her greeting is warm, and her gift of the sweet for the girl would normally be accepted with happily, but it only brings back the memories of a tragedy and the quick journey to the little book shop is anything but quick.

In a funnier vein is El océano Pacifico which makes up half the book. It follows “the man” who has bought a new Audi A6 and discovers that every time he plays a CD in it the musician dies shortly after. First there is Barbara, then Stephan Grapelli, and finally Sonny Bono. He flees to Paris for the Christmas break to avoid the celebrations at home, noting

Una corona de muérdago convierte la puerta en una especie de atud en posición vertical

A crown of mistletoe made the door into a kind of vertical coffin.

Paris is not a particularly festive city for him. It is a gray city of mourning and as he walks the streets and endures the rain Pámies turns Paris into one of those dark places of noir or French new wave where only isolation and darkness exist. Taking the metro he sees a street musician playing a clarinet. She is beautiful and he falls in love with her enough that he buys her CD. At his hotel he opens the case with trepidation, afraid his curse will kill her, but it’s empty. He searches through every metro station looking for her and when he finds her, they make a bargain. If she can survive 12 hours after playing her CD, he will give her 10,000 franks. She takes the offer and the man and the clarinetist play a game of waiting, she not trusting him, he limiting his desires for a woman he desperately wants but cannot have and is afraid he will kill. Ultimately, when he is returning home he takes pride in his ability to fall out of love. It was something, like Paris, that was a passing infatuation. What does it say though, that everything he loves dies (although the fate of the clarinetist is left open). Instead we are left with the death of Carl Perkins. It is a strange tale whose insights about Paris are colored with a loneliness and quiet desperation that is chilling and comedic.

Perhaps in his most fantastical and paradoxical, a man who can see into the near future sees himself in a hospital and has no idea how sick he is or what will happen. Even though he has the power to see into the future, he is powerless to see beyond the room. What he finds himself wanting to know is what will he know when he is actually in that moment in the hospital. Even for those with the power to see the future, the future is not enough. He needs to be in the future to see the future. It is his most Borgesian story whose brief pages belie a paradox.

Sergi Pámies’ work is an excellent mix of the satirical, fantastical, and humorous, bridging social satire, to political cometary, to family stories of loss. An astute observer, especially in his descriptions of Paris, his stories are filled with observations on modern life. For those interested in Catalan literature, perhaps one day he will be translated.

My Review of The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda up at Asymptote Journal

My review of The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda has been published by Asymptote Journal. I liked the stories quite a bit. I’ll let my review speak for itself:

The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda are a fascinating mix of personal disappointment and the darkly allegorical, stories that capture the precise moment when longing becomes futile and self-destructive. Living through a troubled romance in her early years then later fleeing into exile and poverty at the end of the Spanish Civil War, Rodereda’s work reflects those turbulent moments and the disillusion that stems from them. Her stories
look inward, whether in disappointment with a cheating husband, or through grief, both expressed in rich allegorical language. It is the power to catch these moments, the spark of failure or the last legacy of something good, that makes her a rich story teller.

Javier Cercas on Spanish Politics and Catalan Nationalism

I don’t usually cover political subjects on this blog because there are more than enough blogs that do have that covered, even Spanish politics in English. However, with the coming publication of an Anatomy of an Instant in English in February, the following editorial that appeared in El Pais this weekend is a good way to get a sense of his writing style, especially the first paragraph, his rhetorical instincts, and his politics.  You can read the full essay at El Pais.

El fracaso de la izquierda en Cataluña

El fracaso del título no es el inédito fracaso electoral del Partido Socialista en las últimas elecciones catalanas: es un fracaso más amplio y anterior a él, y que en parte lo explica; no es un fracaso político: es un fracaso ideológico. Este fracaso podría resumirse así: desde hace muchos años la izquierda catalana ha entregado la hegemonía ideológica al nacionalismo, de tal manera que a veces se diría que en Cataluña, en la práctica, no es posible no ser nacionalista: o se es nacionalista catalán o se es nacionalista español; también puede resumirse así: asombrosamente, en Cataluña es posible ser a la vez nacionalista y de izquierdas. Se trata de dos disparates complementarios. No solo es posible no ser nacionalista -nacionalista catalán o español o moldavo-, sino que es indispensable, al menos si uno se reclama de izquierdas, dado que el nacionalismo es, aquí y en Moldavia, una ideología reaccionaria, incompatible con los principios más elementales la izquierda. ¿Cómo se explica que haya arraigado ese disparate en Cataluña? ¿Y cómo se explica que lo haya hecho tan profundamente y durante tanto tiempo?