Best Books of the Year from El Pais

El Pais has their end of year top ten. No real surprises here this year. The better list is the top 4 by genre. In the fiction in Spanish are

1. Así empieza lo malo. Javier Marías. Alfaguara.

2. El impostor. Javier Cercas. Literatura Random House.

3. El balcón en invierno. Luis Landero. Tusquets.

4. Como la sombra que se va. Antonio Muñoz Molina. Seix Barral.

The most interesting is in the Spanish non fiction category. They list Continuación de ideas diversas by César Aira, which is an interesting choice. It is a meditation on writing in a free associative style. Caravana de recuerdos has a review.

 

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The Short Stories of Sergio Chejfec and at César Aira Eterna Cadencia

The blog Eterna Cadencia had an interesting post over two collections of short stories from Sobre Modo linterna, de Sergio Chejfec, y Relatos reunidos, de César Aira.

En Modo linterna, Sergio Chejfec continúa construyendo y ensanchando ese territorio que encuentra en nociones como experiencia, representación, narración y discurso, sus coordenadas fundamentales. Chejfec es consciente de aquello que hace no mucho explicó Luis Chitarroni: que la literatura ha perdido la confianza en la ficción (esa misma confianza que retiene el cine y, más acá, las series de tv). Por lo tanto, el acto de narrar, en estos albores de la era digital, implica conquistar o re-conquistar esa confianza. ¿Pero cuál es la estrategia? ¿Cómo se podría, sin golpes bajos, conjurar la magia perdida? Paradójicamente, la respuesta habría que empezar a buscarla en lo siguiente: no sin pruebas, no sin documentos. Hoy, la mejor ficción surge menos de los artificios y pliegues de una trama o de la singularidad o conflictos de los personajes, que de la desnudez y testimonio de la escritura; de una escritura que produzca ficción fatalmente, acaso como las arañas producen por instinto una hermosa tela. Y para eso, es en el narrador, en la construcción del narrador y su sensibilidad, donde se libra la batalla. No casualmente, autores como Sebald, Magris, Bernhard (pero también, más cerca, Levrero) deben administrar la autobiografía, los diarios, la crónica y fundirlos en la ficción.

Cesar Aira Profiled in The Nation

This came out a couple months ago, but I haven’t kept track of anything lately. It is a really nice and long overview of the writer, heavy on the biographical. Worth a read. (via Scott)

Whether or not César Aira is Argentina’s greatest living writer, he’s certainly its most slippery. His novels, which number more than sixty, are famous for their brevity—few are longer than a hundred pages—and for their bizarre, unpredictable plots. In How I Became a Nun (2005) an innocent family outing climaxes with murder. The weapon? A vat of cyanide-laced strawberry ice cream. In The Literary Conference (2006) an attempt to clone the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes causes giant blue silkworms to attack a Venezuelan city, and in Aira’s latest book to appear in English, Varamo (2002), two spinsters get caught smuggling black-market golf clubs.

Aira loves to keep readers guessing—he once said that he deliberately writes the opposite of whatever fans praise—and several of his novels are actually works of probing psychological realism. But for all the variety of his novels’ plots, what has remained consistent during the thirty-odd years he has been writing is his taste for blending genres. Social realism and haunted-house tale mix with architectural theory in Ghosts (1990). Biography, pioneer tale and biogeography melt together in An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (2000). The B-movie plot of The Literary Conference is peppered with asides on myth and translation.

Five New Argentine Novels (in English!) – Via Argentina Independent

The Argentina Independent has a list of five new Argentine novels that have come out in English recently. I have heard of two of the authors, Sergio Chejfec and César Aira and I am currently reading Andrés Neuman’s Viajero del siglo (Traveler of the Century). Hopefully, Ill finish it soon. It is enjoyable if a little long. A Full review will be forth coming. I trust the list will get peek your interests. (via)

Friends of Mine by Ángela Pradelli
For loyal readers of this series, Ángela Pradelli needs no introduction. An excerpt from her novel ‘Amigas Mías’, translated expertly by Andrea G. Labinger, helped us launch as our first installment a year ago. Now, after much anticipation, the full-length novel from which that excerpt was taken will be released in English from the Latin American Literary Review Press. Called ‘Friends of Mine’, and also translated by Labinger, the novel tells the story of a group of women living in the Buenos Aires province, who meet once a year on 30th December to eat dinner, celebrate the New Year, and reflect on the strange, difficult and wonderful passage of time. Structured in short, lucid fragments, the novel reads like a coming-of-age tale for a group of friends, a neighborhood, and an era of life in middle-class Argentina that has as much resonance today (and outside of Spanish) as it did when it was first published in 2002 and was awarded the Premio Emecé. Re-read our interview with Pradelli for more context, or peruse the sample we published last year. Then head over to the LALRP website to buy a copy for all your friends — after all, that’s what the novel is about.

The Islands by Carlos Gamerro
When we spoke to Carlos Gamerro last year, two of his acclaimed novels were in the process of being translated into English, both by his friend Ian Barnett (who also translated ‘The Peronist Princess’ by Marcelo Pitrola). Last year, the first of those books, ‘An Open Secret’ (Pushkin Press), was released to a critical consensus: The Economist — a publication not known for effluvient rhetoric — declared that Gamerro’s novel had “the makings of a classic,” and the Independent called it “haunting and disturbing.” This isn’t news to us; we’ve been enjoying Gamerro’s brand of darkly comic prose since we published his story ‘Bad Burgers’ in August. Now English-reading fans of his fiction will have another reason to cheer: this May, And Other Stories, a new British publishing concern, will release a translation of Gamerro’s first novel, ‘The Islands’. Like the spiralling narrator of ‘Bad Burgers,’ the protagonist of ‘The Islands’ chases his own trauma down a rabbit hole when he discovers that, despite the passage of ten years, the Falklands/Malvinas War is still raging — a reality he’s not quite ready to confront. Written with Gamerro’s trademark muscularity, we’re certain this new addition to the English-language cannon will only swell his growing fanbase. Head over to the And Other Stories site to pre-order a copy.

Interviews with the Translators of César Aira at the Market Place of Ideas

The Market Place of Ideas podcast has a great interview with three of César Aira’s translators. Definately worth a listen if you are interested in César Aira, translation, or how the various traditions in writing in Spanish is different than those of the United States and how that shapes the market for translation.

11.09.21. Colin Marshall talks to Chris Andrews, Katherine Silver, and Rosalie Knecht, English translators of the Argentine novelist César Aira, whom some readers in the Anglosphere are now finding as exciting as Borges. Despite having published over fifty books since 1975, Aira has only recently broken into English with novels such as An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, How I Became a Nun, Ghosts, The Literary Conference, and the new The Seamstress and the Wind that showcase his ability to balance the fine-grained observational detail of with outlandish fantasy and the methodical work habits and genre sensibilities of a mainstream author with the experimentalism and caprice of the avant-garde.

Tin House 49 – Cesar Aira Interview and Excerpt, Ben Okri, Kelly Link, and Oliver Broudy – A Review

Tin House issue 49, The Ecstatic, arrived last week and in a fit of diligent reading I finished it off in a week’s time, I’m rather pleased with this. Anyway, the issue, as always, had some high points and some forgettable pieces. What I was most exited with was Scott Eposito’s interview with Cesar Aira which was quite good (unfortunately it is not available on-line). Scott is a good reader and had some great questions to for Aira. Most interesting is his way of working which is a revisionless writing that only continues until he is uninterested or his idea is exhausted. (He does spend a day or so per page, so it isn’t exactly revisionless writing). The review and the excerpt did make me want to read his work. The excerpt which will be out in 2012 was interesting, more than most excerpts, is about a Panamanian government official who writes a master piece by accident. It has potential and I am interested in knowing where he is going with it. The only thing that annoyed me was that tedious statement that says the only way you can enjoy something is in the original language. Not true and rather limiting. I wish writers would stop with this kind of nonsense. There are limits, but there is no other way for most of us to read the world.

The interview with Ben Okri was interesting, if a little too much about NY. It is on-line but you’ll have to a little diffing to find it. The short story from Kelly Link called the Summer People was very good. A mix of the fantastic and the surreal about a young woman who is the care taker for the mysterious inhabitants of an old house. They are never seen, but communicate telepathically giving her their wishes. Anytime she does something they reward her with fantastically create objects, often wind up toys of undescrible complexity. But they are a strange people who though never seen are described in terms of queens and workers, as if they were a form of bee. Link was able to build a fascinating and complex world that has no explanation and though cannot exist, seems like it just could. My only criticism is it was filled with southernisms and while I’m not against them it seems as if they were more stereotypical than real. I haven’t been to the south in years, so I don’t know if they are real, but they felt a little forced.

Finally, Oliver Broudy’s non-fiction piece about a kung fu master who is running a school to train the next masters of white crane style was great. As someone who grew up on kung fu, to read about a man who has gathered a handful of students in a ten year course of study, living a monkish lifestyle of training and asceticism was fascinating. He told the story, in part, from the perspective of a poor young American who seemed the most unlikely to finish the training. The conflict between the easy American life, even in a run down part of Pennsylvania that has no future, and the hard work of kung fu is an almost insurmountable tension. In many ways, it is evocative of problems facing the nation.

 

The Millions on César Aira

The Millions has a good over view of the work of Argentine author César Aira. While he is not necessarily new to English, he is lesser known and the article reviews each of his four books. I’m not sure which one intrigues me most, perhaps Ghosts. Which ever one I choose they all sound interesting.

Ghosts shares Episode’s preoccupation with the visible world, if in a less frenzied key.  The entire action takes place over the course of a single day, New Year’s Eve, in and around a Buenos Aires construction site.  The night watchman, a Chilean immigrant, and his family live in the unfinished building as squatters.  The father, Raúl, is a good worker, but a bit of a drunkard.  His wife, Elisa, is a levelheaded housewife, “that anomaly, not nearly as rare as is often supposed: a mother immune to the terrifying fantasy of losing her children in a crowd.”  Their daughter, Patri, quiet but philosophically “frivolous,” spends the day wandering through the empty structure.  All of them see the ghosts which haunt it: portly naked men covered in fine cement dust whose members stretch like accordions.  The ghosts float between floors and sit on the satellite dishes “on which no bird would have dared to perch.”  Raúl uses them to refrigerate his wine; inserting a bottle into the ghosts’ thorax not only cools the wine, but also transmutes it into an “exquisite, matured cabernet sauvignon.”  Elisa does her best to ignore them.  But Patri is drawn to them by a strange attraction, and they to her, swarming around her head in a “luminous helix.”  Toward evening, they invite her to their midnight feast, though without mentioning the price of admission.

Between hauntings, Ghosts is filled with Aira’s beautifully precise observation of the texture of everyday life.  Most of the novel is occupied with the description of a workday, the preparations for a lunch, the problem of getting change in a grocery store, the difference between Chilean and Argentinean hair styles, laundry.  Elisa uses an inordinate amount of bleach in her washing, with the result that her family’s clothes “were so faded and had that threadbare look, humble and worn, yet beautifully so.  Even if an article of clothing was new, or brightly colored when she bought it, for the very first wash (a night-long soak in bleach) it took on the whitish, delicate and somehow aristocratic appearance that distinguished the clothes of the Viñas family.”  Viewed from this close, ordinary existence opens out to other dimensions.  Aira is a master at pivoting between the mundane and metaphysical.  In the middle of Ghosts, Patri takes a nap during the siesta and dreams of her unfinished building.  Her dream turns into a disquisition on the problem of the unbuilt in the arts, on the philosophical underpinnings of architecture in different cultures, and finally, a blueprint for Aira’s brand of literature, “an art in which the limitations of reality would be minimized, in which the made and the unmade would be indistinct, an art that would be instantaneously real, without ghosts.”