Literary Map of the Pinochet Coup

On the 40th anniversary of the Chilean coup by Pinochet El Pais ran a literary history of it. It is a long article with plenty of names and worth a perusal.

Quien mejor abordó el horror que de inmediato se instaló en Chile tras el golpe es Roberto Bolaño en Estrella distante, a través de un personaje inolvidable, Carlos Wieder, infiltrado en un taller de poesía que cultiva una siniestra forma de arte a partir de la tortura y la desaparición de detenidos. Tiempo que ladra, de Ana María del Río, es una interesantísima novela de formación —que desgraciadamente no ha sido reeditada— estructurada por la relación entre la protagonista y su padre, que llega a ser ministro del Gobierno de Allende y sufre luego la brutalidad de la represión. De amor y de sombra, popular novela de Isabel Allende, establece un relato coral de los efectos de la dictadura tras los primeros años del golpe. No es gran literatura, pero tiene el mérito de narrar un momento histórico con un estilo cercano a muchos lectores.

En crónica, destaca Golpe, de los periodistas Margarita Serrano y Ascanio Cavallo, libro que reconstruye, con nuevos testimonios —la primera edición es de hace diez años—, “las 24 horas más dramáticas del siglo XX” en Chile. Cavallo es coautor también de otro libro crucial para entender la dictadura, La historia oculta del régimen militar, junto a Manuel Salazar y Óscar Sepúlveda. Una reciente publicación más académica, Ecos mundiales del régimen militar, editada por los cientistas políticos Patricio Navia y Alfredo Joignant, recoge textos aparecidos en la prensa extranjera y escritos por destacados historiadores como Eric Hobsbawm.

Alejandro Zambra Interviewed in El Pais

El Pais has a decent length interview with Alejandro Zambra. It is worth checking out to get a sense of what animates his writing.

—Sí, claro. De ser un niño muy teórico e inteligentoso, la literatura pasó a servirme para explicarme cosas de las que no estaba seguro. En Formas de volver a casa yo sabía lo que estaba narrando, pero pretendía también disolver otras certezas, conseguir una cierta ambigüedad. Que el libro fuera muchas cosas a la vez. Y por supuesto que algunas cosas no sabía que estaban ahí. Eso es lo que tiene la literatura de intransferible: existen fragmentos no calculados. Creo que intenté otra manera de hablar de la dictadura chilena, que a ratos desconcierta. Hay escritores chilenos profesionales que recorren Europa…

—Comercializando el dolor.

—Claro, y bueno, sabemos quiénes son. A veces cuesta explicar en el extranjero que acá existía una vida cotidiana mientras sucedían hechos horrendos. Un periodista francés, a propósito de Formas de volver a casa, me preguntó cómo era posible que un niño anduviera por las calles en ese tiempo, sin saber que los niños de entonces andábamos por las calles harto más que los de ahora.

Los libros de Zambra, no es ni necesario preguntárselo, son autobiográficos. Hurguetean en él mismo. Hay una voz que los atraviesa. Cualquiera sea el conflicto —siempre finalmente íntimo— está el testimonio de un narrador encarnado. “En Formas de volver a casa pagué una deuda con mi infancia. Durante mucho tiempo pensé que mi experiencia no tenía importancia. Era el tiempo en que lo realmente significativo era que se esclarecieran los crímenes, que las víctimas de la tortura pudieran hablar; los que importaban no éramos nosotros —los hijos de la clase media del extrarradio, despolitizada— sino los hijos de las víctimas. Si entonces me hubieran dicho que escribiría una novela sobre la villa en que vivía en Maipú, no lo hubiera creído. Esa novela, más que relatar hechos, lo que quiere es hacerse cargo de la imposibilidad de relatarlos. En rigor, ahí hay experiencias, pero también está la sensación de que no valen la pena de ser narradas, porque hay asuntos que son más importantes. En el fondo tiene que ver con el duelo, cuando este se transformó en algo realmente colectivo en Chile. Esto debe haber pasado hace unos diez años. Dejó de ser un asunto solamente de las víctimas, y la mayoría de los chilenos entendieron que estas cosas le habían pasado al país. Aún quedan muchos crímenes sin resolver, todavía campea la impunidad, pero al menos los chilenos entendimos, la mayoría, que el duelo es colectivo”.

Alejandro Zambra Interviewed in El Pais – How the Cost of Books Shape His Desire for E-Books

El Pais has an interview with Alejandro Zambra on the publishing of his book of criticism, No leer, in Spain. What is interesting about the article, especially in context of some recent articles questioning the structure of the publishing industry in the Spanish speaking world, is that he says he read most of his books in photocopied editions because they were too expensive otherwise. And due to all this, he is looking forward to the e-book which will reduce the cost of the book (although, there is a cost to entry in that you have to have a reader, but I suppose he takes that for granted).

“Muchas grandes obras que fueron importantes para mí las leí en fotocopia. Los libros en Chile son objetos de lujo, carísimos. Parecen diseñados como para que la gente no lea. Las fotocopias me recuerdan los tiempos que uno le pasaba sus poemas a la amiga que estabas conociendo y hacías como un libro, o cuando un amigo fotocopiaba Guerra y paz, de 30 en 30 páginas. Por eso me interesan los e-books. Si finalmente puedes pagar mucho menos por un libro, ¿por qué no? El libro es solo un producto, lo importante es el texto. Y a la vez soy hiperfetichista de los libros. Me interesan todos los formatos. También me gustan mucho los audiobooks, porque creo que un buen texto debiera uno poder escucharlo en voz alta. La prosa tiene que tener ritmo. Y ese ritmo tiene que sorprenderte, provocar efectos específicos. No hay que olvidar que así era la literatura. La costumbre de leer en silencio es relativamente nueva. En las ventas del Quijote se lee una novela para que varios la escuchen”.

An Alternate Bolaño in Exile – a Short Story from Álvaro Bisama

Letras Libres has a short story from the Chilian author Álvaro Bisama in its July issue. It follow the life of an exile who returns to Chile in 1988 after a 14 year exile. The man is an artist (se dedica al arte, pinta, escribe, dibuja, esculpe, lo que quiere decir que no se dedica a nada / he dedicates himself to art, painting, writing, drawing, sculpture, which is to say he dedicates himself to nothing) who lives in Valparaiso. He spends his time going to bars, meeting women, reading, and studying an obscure book of poetry by a mysterious and obscure poet. He reads like a character from Bolaño or a version of  Bolaño as if he had returned to Chile. The exile tries to turn the book into a novel then a movie script, which is for this man, is a Sisyphean task. The poet is a strange man who believes in Lovecraft’s phantasms and is more interested in narrating stories about surrealist poets who eat them selves in acts straight from Dali. Crypta is told in a very plain style and one has the sense of gloominess that overhangs every thing. Isolation is everywhere, between the exile and the people he knows, and the exile and the reader, as much of what we know of the exile are his actions, not his thought. The exile’s life is as if the exile continues at home, and most of all becomes a form of exile that one never returns from.

I’m not sure if the story is enough to make me want to read more yet. But you can read some interview with him here and here.

Tiene treinta años y viene llegando del exilio. Es 1988 y desembarca en el puerto. No importa su nombre en esta historia que, si se mira bien, es solo una anécdota. Lo que dejó atrás es la memoria de una infancia donde existían otros colores, otros aromas. Se fue el 74, lo que recuerda –la memoria es una lejanía desolada– es el vértigo y un mundo que desapareció. Pero nada más. No le interesa recordar. Así que eso es todo, ese es el punto de partida. Así que recapitulemos: borrón y cuenta nueva al regreso, treinta años, 1988, el puerto. Eso basta para comenzar. A su llegada, no tiene un trabajo seguro. Vive en la casa de una pareja de amigos. Él es profesor y ella enfermera.

La casa queda en los altos del cerro que se eleva en el punto exacto donde alguna vez estuvo el barrio rojo de la ciudad. Sobre ese barrio rojo se escribieron novelas y se filmaron películas pero ahora ya no queda nada salvo eso: las películas y los libros. Pero la vista desde su balcón es impresionante. Cuando se levanta, puede ver la bahía al amanecer y la lentitud de los buques al entrar y salir de la rada. Hace durar los ahorros. Les paga un arriendo mínimo a sus amigos y se dedica al arte, pinta, escribe, dibuja, esculpe, lo que quiere decir que no se dedica a nada; simplemente deambula por el puerto, bebe en los bares, se escurre en la frágil bohemia de los fines de dictadura. A veces se acuesta con novias ocasionales, muchachas que le preguntan por su acento, sus viajes y con las cuales comparte algunas tardes. Él, se hace entender, es poeta y, por ende, lee mucho.

Aquello es falso pero no demasiado, lee mucho pero no es poeta. Alguna vez lo publicaron en una antología sueca de escritores en el exilio. Como todos los de la antología era una copia triste de Nicanor Parra. Pero da lo mismo. Lo que importa: una de las muchachas con las que se acuesta le presta un libro.

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.

Alberto Fuguet – His Work and Controversies in Pagina 12

Pagina 12 has a long interview article with Alberto Fuget that covers his newest novel, Missing, and his history as part of a new generation of Latina American writers. The sections about the controversies he has caused was insightful especially the reactions he was getting from the English speaking north. I’m looking forward to reading Missing when it comes out. Ezra Fitz said he was working on the translation.

Tanto Alekán como Sobredosis, su primer libro de cuentos, para Fuguet terminaron siendo pasos en falso. De hecho, asegura, los cuentos no estaban incluidos en el plan original de su primer contrato y el título de la recopilación jamás fue su idea. “Me pegaron por derecha y por izquierda, unos por decadente, los otros por extranjerizante”, cuenta. “Con Mala onda pasó lo mismo, pero no hubo forma de pararlo, porque no paraban de leerlo.” Con los jóvenes de su generación, Fuguet se refugió en un flamante suplemento juvenil de El Mercurio, llamado Zona de Contacto. “La idea original fue hacerlo a imagen y semejanza del Sí de Clarín, pero no nos permitieron usar la música, así que lo hicimos alrededor de la literatura.” Rodeado por sus contemporáneos, Fuguet subió la apuesta y ahí llegó McOndo. Y el malentendido fronteras adentro se continuó fuera de Chile.

Su responsable asegura que no se dieron cuenta de lo que realmente significaba el título. Romper con el realismo mágico y hablar de una Latinoamérica urbana podía parecer algo evidente a mediados de los noventa para un escritor urbano, rodeado de sus contemporáneos en un proyecto exitoso como la Zona, decidido a buscar a sus pares en el resto del continente. Pero en pleno auge del neoliberalismo, el error de Mala onda parecía repetirse, y –aún sin Alekán continental de por medio– Fuguet pasó a encarnar la juventud literaria conservadora. “En los ámbitos académicos norteamericanos hacían tesis como ‘El neoliberalismo y Fuguet’, cosas así. No sólo era malentendido, sino que me consideraban el enemigo”, recuerda.

Perhaps my favorite moment was the following:

Pero la posición política de Vargas Llosa más que cerrar, reabriría la polémica.

–Podemos estar discutiendo horas sobre eso, pero yo creo que Vargas Llosa no es un fascista. Es un freak, un psicópata al que le gusta provocar. Pero está totalmente en contra de las dictaduras y sus libros van a seguir creciendo con el tiempo.

 

Controversy: Isabel Allende and the National Prize for Literature

Perhaps it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who follows Latin American literature that there would be some controversy about Isabel Allende and Chile’s National Prize for Literature. I haven’t heard a kind word for her in a while, usually it is wrapped up in criticisms of popularity, but none of her recent books have really interested me. She doesn’t have to spend all her time writing magical realism, but I just don’t trust her when she writes about the US. Global Voices has a quick run down on some of the chatter that is accompanying her nomination. You can decide if it is petty or warranted.

Isabel Allende, author of The House of Spirits and the recently published Island Beneath the Sea, among other novels, is one of the best-known and most-read Latin American writers. This year, she is a candidate for the Chilean National Prize for Literature, a prize given by the government, the Ministry of Education, and the National Council of Culture and the Arts. Her candidacy has sparked debate among literature critics, writers, and average Chilean citizens.

Isabel Allende was born in Peru while her father worked there as a diplomat; her father’s cousin was Salvador Allende, the president who was ousted by a coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973. Isabel Allende now lives in California. As reported by the Latin American Herald Tribune, “Her books have been translated into more than two-dozen languages and 51 million copies of her novels have been sold.” However, some critics, and even some readers, think her popularity is not enough reason to give her the prize.

Ana Maria Matute, Amin Maalouf and Nicanor Parra Finalists for the Principe de Asturias

The Spanish author Ana Maria Matute, the Lebanese Amin Maalouf, and the Chilean Nicanor Parra are the finalists for the Principe de Asturias prize, which will be awarded on Wednesday. El Pais has a run down on the authors. It is interesting that a Lebanese author is listed amongst an otherwise Spanish language prize. As a fan of Matute I would like to see her win.

Review of Chilean Author Alberto Fuguet’s New Novel

Moleskine Literario has an lengthy and well reasoned review of Alberto Fuguet’s newest book, which is not quite a novel and not quite non-fiction. It is a book based on his own family and his own experience. The narrator, who is also named Alberto Fuguet, is trying to find out more about his uncle, Carlos, who led a Bohemian life in the US during the 60s. Estranged from his father, a man who says

“Stop bothering me,” he said by telephone one night, “cease to exist. You don’t exist for me. You have only brought me problems. We don’t want to see you ever again. I don’t care that you are my son.”

“Deja de molestarnos”, le dijo por teléfono una noche, “deja de existir. No existes para mí. Sólo me has traído problemas. No queremos verte nunca más. No me interesa que seas hijo mío” (25).

While this could become, perhaps, just a tale of family strife, Luis Hernán Castañeda, notes that he uses the search not only to imagine what could have been, but to avoid the malicious that often comes with family investigations.

Missing (an investigation), is, most of all, a touching text: the material is intense, per se, and the treatment of this material does justice to its intensity. Nerveless, it is also a lucid and ambitious textual artifact, in which the gaze of the narrator Fuguet is  sharpened to penetrate the cloudy and confusing and hurtful, with the artistic intention, completely achieved, of returning to the transformed light -perhaps exalted-of a skillful and complex text of elaboration.

“Missing (una investigación)” es, sobre todo, un texto conmovedor: su materia es intensa per se, y el tratamiento de esa materia le hace entera justicia a su intensidad. Sin embargo, también es un artefacto textual lúcido y ambicioso, en el que la mirada del narrador Fuguet se afila para penetrar en lo turbio y lo confuso y lo hiriente, con el propósito artístico plenamente logrado de devolverlo a la luz transformado -quizá enaltecido- en un texto de elaboración diestra y compleja.

What sounds particularly interesting is his use of multiple modes of story telling. If you’ve read Short Cuts you will know that he does like to play with form some what, although this seems like the farthest hes gone.

The formal complexity of the the novel does not respond to a gratuitous pyrotechnic effort but the requirements of dark and tangled material. In the ample formal repertory we find, for example, one whole section dedicated to commenting on the origin of the book that the reader has in his hands, a very short chronicle that appeared in the magazine Etiqueta negra; there is also a section constructed from the Diary of the Psychiatrist, composed of annotations in which Fuguet, transformed into a detective, explains the progress of his investigation; another part of the book gives two interviews conducted by Fuguet with his uncle, en which the uncle expresses himself in the first person, even though it is clear after hearing him that there are enigmatic areas, secret territories that he refuses to reveal. Lastly, the center of the novel, both in terms of expansiveness and importance, emerge in the eighth part, titled The Echoes of his Mind. Carlos Talks [title is in English]. It is about a long narrative and autobiographic poem, one where an imaginary Carlos, fruit of an amalgamation of observation and fantasy, narrates his intire life and seeks to impress a feeling of him for himself and for others.

La complejidad formal de la novela no responde, pues, a un gratuito afán de pirotecnia sino a los requisitos de una materia oscura y enmarañada. En el amplio repertorio formal encontramos, por ejemplo, toda una sección dedicada a comentar el origen del libro que el lector tiene entre manos, una crónica muy breve que apareció publicada en la revista “Etiqueta negra”; existe también una parte construida a partir de un “diario de la pesquisa”, compuesto por anotaciones en las que Fuguet, transformado en detective, va dando cuenta de los progresos de su investigación; otra zona del libro ofrece dos entrevistas realizadas por Fuguet a su tío, en las que éste se expresa en primera persona, aunque queda claro tras escucharlo que hay una zona enigmática, un territorio secreto que se niega a revelarse. Por último el centro de la novela, tanto en términos de extensión como de importancia, eclosiona en la octava parte, titulada “The Echoes of his Mind. Carlos talks”. Se trata de un largo poema narrativo y autobiográfico en el cual un Carlos imaginario, fruto de una amalgama de observación y fantasía, narra su vida entera y procura imprimirle un sentido, para sí mismo y para los otros.

I hope someday it will come out in English, especially since he has had one book published in English already.

Update (6/2/10): I have been informed by @ezrafitz that they are working on a translation right now. No ETA as yet.

Chilean Hernán Rivera Letelier Has Won the Alfaguara Prize

Chilean Hernán Rivera Letelier won the Alfaguara Prize yesterday, one of the more important prizes in Spanish speaking world with a prize of $175,000. According to the jury, his book El arte de la resurrección “mixes historical and social chronicle with elements of magic realism (mezcla la crónica histórica y social con elementos del realismo mágico). You can read El Pais’s short note here.

The Maid – A Review

The Maid is one of those claustrophobic movies that seldom roams into varied locations and keeps to one character almost all the time, yet feels open and finds in the littlest of actions an expansive interior world. The interior world for the viewer, though, is a mystery, because it is unverbalized. The Maid is a visual movie, almost seeming like a narratorless documentary. It is in the subtle scenes and excellent acting of the actor who plays Raquel that makes the anything but dry.

As the movie opens that employs Raquel is trying to celebrate her 40th birthday.  She is unwilling to celebrate it with them, though. Is she shy, or afraid? It is not clear. What is obvious is she is a quiet, pensive character. She goes about her work quickly and efficiently, but also disturbs the older daughter while sleeping in a fit of vindictiveness. She protests to the mother of the family about bringing in another maid to helper, saying she has always taken care of the family for 20 years. When a maid is brought in anyway, she locks her out of the house. When another maid is brought in she locks her out of the house too. Through all this strange behavior, though, the family keeps her. Finally, though, what ever was bothering her leads to her collapse and she ends up in the hospital driven in a panic by the family as if she was their own child. While she is in the hospital the family brings in a new maid, Lucy. Lucy is unlike the other maids and when Raquel returns to work and tries to lock her out of the house instead of trying to get back in the house, begins to nude sunbathe. It breaks the ice between them and they soon become friends and Raquel goes with her to her family’s farm for Christmas, something it is implied she hadn’t done since she’d lived with the family. When Lucy leaves, Raquel is disappointed, but instead of retreating into her old shell, takes up one of Lucy’s hobbies, jogging. As the movie ends Raquel is running down a street in listening to music and dressed just like Lucy when she went jogging.

Raquel is a mystery. What is bothering her and why is she taking it out on the family? What is apparent is her need for a wider experience, not so much in adventures in the world, but among friends. She has lived with a very paternal family that appreciates her, but does constrain her. She has lived with them for 20 years and has known almost nothing else. She is cut off from her family for a reason that  is never explained but obviously bothers her. She is part child that has never grown moving into the family at 20 and a perfectionist who can no longer stand the exactitude. When she goes to Lucy’s she goes to bed with Lucy’s uncle but is unable to consummate the night probably because it is outside her experience. Moreover, the family she lives with is very religious with crucifixes in every room and prayers every night. Between her youth, her inexperience and the family she lives with, she is struggling to grow up. When Lucy comes, she presents a new avenue, not just another maid just like her. The final scene of the film is of Raquel taking on not only the persona of Lucy, but a new persona that is free of the house and her past.

The even handedness of the film as it finds Raquel and Raquel finds herself is what makes the film so good. It is a search without the conventions of search; a movie of self discovery without the clichés of self discovery. It is a movie where the questions you are left with will begin the search and extend the film beyond the theater—the mark of a good film.

Bolaño, Enrique Lihn, and Jorge Edwards

I found one review and one story whose discovery were perfectly timed. The first, is a review in Letras Libres of a new book by Jorge Edwards. The second is a short story Meeting with Enrique Lihn by Bolaño in the New Yorker. The two items coincide nicely because the Bolaño story, although not particularly evident in the story what role Lihn performs in Bolaño’s personal pantheon, he is obviously someone, unlike Paz, worthy of moving through a dreamscape.

Edwards book, according to Edmundo Paz Soldán, uses a character based on Lihn to represent a generalized view of one whole generation, the generation of the 40’s and 50’s, before Bolaño and after Neruda. The book has many similarities to The Savage Detectives: the bohemian life style, the traveling here and there, the nightlife, the disgust at the established poet, in this case Neruda. But unlike the savage detectives, the Poet’s writing is what takes center stage.

En Los detectives salvajes, Belano y Lima son la periferia de la neovanguardia, hombres en fuga que para resistir al sistema, a la institución de la literatura, se entregan a la poesía como una experiencia vital. Para el Poeta de Edwards, la experiencia es intensa, pero la obra se antepone siempre a esta: “En los últimos días había empezado a escribir de nuevo en uno de sus cuadernos escolares. Eran hileras de versos que se curvaban, se entrechocaban y se desplomaban por las orillas, asomándose a veces en el otro lado de las páginas.”

In the Savage Detectives, Belano and Lima are peripheral to the neovanguard, men in flight to resist the system, literary instruction, and to live poetry as a vital experience. For Edward’s poet, the experiences are intense, but the work is always first: “In the last few days I had begun to write again in a student’s notebook. They were lines of verse that curve and chatter and tumble down by the shore, peeking out at times on the other side of the page.

It is an interesting article and gives a wider frame of reference to Bolaño, especially given the story in the New Yorker. It seems Bolaño wasn’t the only Chilean poet to reject so throughly what came before.

On a different note, the opening sentence is a great little capsule of Chilean literary controversies of the last few years.

El mundillo literario chileno suele alborotarse cada tanto con polémicas genuinas y otras que son más bien gratuitas. En las últimas décadas le tocó a Alberto Fuguet y Sergio Gómez debido a la antología McOndo, y a Roberto Bolaño y Diamela Eltit, enfrentados por unas declaraciones nada diplomáticas del primero; este año el turno ha sido de Jorge Edwards (Santiago, 1931), ese escritor de modales tan finos que es fácil confundirlo con un diplomático (de hecho, lo ha sido durante muchos años).