La muerte juega a los dados (Death Played with Dice) by Clara Obligado – A Review

La muerte juega a los dados (Death Played with Dice)
Clara Obligado
Páginas de Espuma 2015, 228 pg

Clara Obligado’s La muerte juega a los dados is a loosely interconnected collection of stories that forms a kind of inter-generational family epic. Given the title of the collection, though, Obligado is less interested in a family epic but the capriccios of history. The overarching family story is always there, but Obligado through the different way she constructs her stories, through the sometimes oblique connections of the stories, creates a dark set of stories that are both structurally inventive and rich with characters.

While Obligado suggests one can read the book in order or randomly, she doesn’t quite achieve a Hopscotch like work. Nevertheless, the structure of the book is very loose and each story could stand on its own. The longer, family oriented stories are less experimental, but Obligado’s command of the genre is obvious. One of the stand out stories (the longest of the collection) La peste (The Plague) is a portrait of a patrician family on the decline. Its an almost Gothic picture: the patron of the family confines herself to her room in grief, the children are decadent wastes, and the grandchildren are trying to make sense of it all. In the midst of it all Buenos Aires suffers the March, 1956 polio outbreak. The sense of a world collapsing in on itself and coming to end is ever present. As Obligado shifts her focus in brief sections from family member to family member, capturing each one’s unique collapse, and in the case of the grandchildren, their confusion, the capriciousness of history shows itself.

The power of each story, though, is enhanced with the interweaving of the tragic arc of the family. Starting with the unsolved murder of the patriarch of the family during the 20’s, the survivors are continually at the mercy of the 20th century’s major events. Its a history that Obligado deftly and judiciously recreates. She wisely avoided a greatest hits of the century, instead focuses on the personal, how events shape the characters. As such we follow the newly wed Lenora as she makes her first transatlantic journey with a husband more interested in his strange house keeper Mdme Tanis. In another, she writes of Mdme Tanis’s teenage years in a brothel in revolutionary Mexico. Or she describes the torture and disappearance of Lenora’s granddaughter, Sonia in 1970’s Argentina. Each story has just enough sense of place to carry the story forward, without loading it up with extraneous details. When Obligado veers into occupied France, she connects the story to the other through the presence of a rare book on origami, avoiding the temptation make the family more important that it really is. Its these light touches that make the discovery of each little connection part of joy in reading the collection.

Ultimately, it is Obligado’s ability to tell a story that makes the collection strong. El verdadero amor nunca se olvida (True Love Is Never Forgotten) is perhaps the best of the collection. She captures the strange family dynamic of a distant mother who cares only about appearances and a father who still loves her. It is the daughter who doesn’t understand her distant mother, an Eastern European immigrant who doesn’t seem to fit in Buenos Aries. As the daughter describes her mother, the richness of the story is revealed. The daughter thinks, how could anyone love her? And yet her father all these years later has never given up. The strength of Obligado’s writing is one can see how both positions are valid.

La muerte juega a los dados with its shifting genres, styles, registers, and its sense of decay, is both an excellent collection of stories and a novel.


Finalists for the Short Story Prize II Premio de Narrativa Breve “Ribera de Duero”

The finalists for the second prize for the short story  Ribera de Duero (II Premio de Narrativa Breve “Ribera de Duero”) was announced last week.  via Moleskin Literario). I’m not familiar with any of them, but neither was I with Javier Sáez de Ibarra who won last year and I liked the story that was in El Pais. The winner is announced on the 31st of March.

Convocado por el Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Ribera del Duero y la editorial Páginas de Espuma, la segunda edición del Premio Internacional de Narrativa Breve Ribera del Duero ya tiene a sus finalistas. Las obras que entran en la selección final, seleccionadas de entre seiscientos sesenta libros de cuentos presentados por escritores de veinticinco nacionalidades, vienen firmadas por siete primeros espadas “de perfil muy heterogéneo”, según el comité de lectura, “aunque todos ellos están ligados desde hace tiempo al mundo de las letras”. Los miembros del jurado, cuya identidad se desconoce, dará a conocer el nombre del ganador el próximo 31 de marzo, día en que se celebrará el acto de entrega en el Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid.

El ganador de la edición anterior fue Javier Sáez de Ibarra por su obra Mirar al agua.

Finalistas del II Premio Internacional de Narrativa Breve
“Ribera de Duero”

– Dioses inmutables, amores, piedras, de Lolita Bosch

– Cuatro cuentos de amor invertebrado, de Marcos Giralt Torrente

– Ensimismada correspondencia, de Pablo Gutiérrez

– No hablo con gente fea, de Marcelo Lillo

– Ideogramas, de Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez

– El libro de los viajes equivocados, de Clara Obligado

– Los constructores de monstruos, de Javier Tomeo


Short Stories From Andres Neuman, Fernando Iwasaki, Hipólito Navarro, Clara Obligado, Patricia Esteban Erlés

For your end of summer reading pleasure: short stories from Andres Neuman, Fernando Iwasaki, Hipólito Navarro, Clara Obligado, and Patricia Esteban Erlés. These are all in Spanish and unfortunately I doubt Google translate will help. All of these links are via the publisher Paginas de Espuma.

Fernando Iwasaki in  El País titled Emmanuelle Allen:

Hipólito G. Navarro (El pez volador) in Público:.

In Público by Clara Obligado:

In El País by Andres Neuman:

In Público by Patricia Esteban Erlés: