Favorite Reads of 2018

Here are my favorite reads for 2018. They are not ordered in any way. I didn’t review all of them, but the ones I did are linked. There are some real standout works there. I wish the Zúñiga and Tizón would be translated into English. Great collections each.

Velocidad de los jardines (The Speed of Gardens) by Eloy Tizón – A Review

velocidaddejardinesVelocidad de los jardines (The Speed of Gardens)
Eloy Tizón
Páginas de Espuma 2017 (1992), pg 146

Velocidad de los jardines, published in 1992, is considered one of the key collections from the generation of authors that first began to publish in Spain during the 1990s. On the occasion of its 25th anniversary Páginas de Espumas has brought out a new edition that returned a classic to print. Both in terms of narrative and style, Velocidad is a rich collection from a young author, just beginning to explore the short story.

Velocidad is well known for its verbal richness and  Los puntos cardinales (Cardenal Points) demonstrates that the reputation is well regarded. The narrator is an aging traveling salesman who has spent his career moving from place to place, never spending much time in any one place. His story is the story of a melancholy loner, one whose view of the world is all externalities that have their own life, as if solitude has made them his companions.

Puede decirse que mi trabajo es una rutina imprevista. Noches para la fatiga. Tapioca. Jardines donde las hojas secas son dulces y los codos de las ninfas como escamas transparentes. Mi corazón esta lleno de esquinas con carteles desteñidos, empapelados transitorios, peines sin púas, una puerta giratoria en a que doy vueltas y mas vueltas y no consigo salir a la calle.

You could say my job is an unforeseen routine. Fatigue for the night. Tapioca. Gardens where the dry leaves are sweet and elbows of nymphs that are like transparent scales. My heart is full of corners with  faded handbills, transitory wallpaper, combs without teeth, a revolving door in which I go around in circles and never make it out to the street.

It is a loneliness aware of its surroundings. You can see this sense in his 2013 collection of stories, Technicas de illumination (my review). This sense fills the narrator and he notices the woman who leads an old man through the subways. They are alone, unobserved, but he sees their strange journey. It so fascinates him that when the man disappears he sits with the woman. It is an act of the lost in an artificial and transitory world. Is it permanent? We don’t know, but for a moment, at least, the narrator isn’t alone.

That richness is also on display in Austin, a story that follows an middle aged professor as he drives out of Madrid one night. It is a journey not only a physical journey out of the city, but one that is a journey towards something lighter, less complicated.

Atrás quedaba la ciudad, y áreas de húmeda oscuridad dejaban vislumbrar, entre grandes tubos huecos de hormigón y polígonos de fibrocemento, collares de luces temblorosas e instalaciones fluorescentes que vibraban.

Behind remained the city and areas of a damp darkness that left to be revealed, between great hollow pipes of cement and asbestos-cement plants, necklaces of trembling lights and vibrating florescents.

Its an industrial wasteland, but it is also a present that the journey seeks to erase. As Austin drives into the dark he is driving into his past, finding where he has failed to be the man he wanted to be, to have the loves he wanted. It is a return to the theme of a future unrealized, a present that is only regret:

En alguna parte, a lo largo de otra melancolía, existía, había existido un muchacho indeciso, privado de futuro, atormentado por la idea del porvenir, que llebava su mismo nombre y que pasaba frio en las autopistas del continente.

In some part, throughout the other melencholy, there existed, had always existed a young, indecisive man, lacking much future, tormented by the idea of the future, who carried his name and got cold on the freeways of the continent.

The richness in his writing can also be found in his narration. Los viajes de Anatalia is a journey of a rich family to an unknown country at the point of war. It was the flavor of an early 20th century escape from an eastern country, the wealthy, both oblivious and self entitled, caring on until the end comes suddenly. One cloud easily see the characters as a Russian family. Even Anatalia in Spanish means one from the east. But there is more—a sense of melancholy, of a past that is slipping away and yet was never was.

Los deseos son futuros incumplidos. Todo parece indicar que nuestros antepasados tambien abrigaron deseos humanos, razonables, y todos ellos desaparecieron sin dejar rastro. ¿Son algo? Una galería de bonitos muertos chistosos.

Desires are unreliable futures. Everything appears to indicate that our ancestors also had human desires, reasonable ones, and all of them disapeared without leaving a trace. Are they something? A galery of beautiful and amusing dead.

In that atmosphere, amongst the loss, the disconnection, the fragments the characters also disappear in all senses. And when Anatalia waves goodbye to her family in the empty train station, it is more than metaphorical her disappearance. The dissolution is complete.

Several stories, including the title story, are about coming of age or looking at the world through the eyes of a child. La vida interminente (The Intermittent Life) is a form of love story between two teeneaged students. Tizon plays with the idea of young romance from the begining: ¿Se amaban ellos porque estaban en el mismo curso o estaban en el mismo curos porque se amaban? (Did they fall in love because they were in the same class or were they in the same clase because they loved each other?) For Tizon it’s not the love that motivates, but the miscues, the passing through without really understanding what is happening.

In Familia, desierto, teatro, casa (Family, Desert, Theater, Home) it is not the confusion of love, but family that confuses a young boy. In one of his more subtile and effecting stories, Tizon narrates a boy’s experience among a family of women while one of them, the one he is closest to, slowly fades as she grows near death. It is a special bond that is wound up in the world of drama and make believe. He deftly captures the intersections of the real, the fantastical, and the unknown and how children fill in the gaps between one and the other to come to some understanding of the world.

Finally, the most prescient story is En cualquier lugar del atlas (In Whatever Place on the Atlas), which describes the movement of refugies through a network of smugglers based in cemetaries. The narrator descibes a writer friend who meets a Polish woman Klara who is in Madrid illegally. They fall in love, but her situation becomes untenible and she has to flee and enters the world of the cemetary where the dead and forgotten rule. It also makes the obvious point that those who have entred into this underground world are no more important than the dead. The narrator’s friend describes the world as <> (“A beautiful place where every kind of misfortune happens”). It is a dark story, but it is not out of line with stories like Austin and Los puntos cardinales, which also have their sense of foreboding.

The anniversary edition also comes with a fine introduction where Tizón describes his early years during the Movieda in Madrid and how he came to write the book. It is not a typical first person introduction that relates chronological events. Instead, it is told in second person with an impressionistic tone such that the introduction is less about events, and more about what pushed him to be a writer. As such there multiple quotes on the power of writing:

Toda la literatura es epistolar: necesita del otro para existir.

All of literature is epistolary: it needs the other to exist.

Uno, un poco, se convierte en lo que ama. Un ser humano termina pareciendose a lo que sueña. El carpintero, a su silla. El astrónomo, a su eclipse…Todos somos otros cuando alguien nos ama o deja de amarnos.

One, a little, turns into what one loves. A human being ends up as what she dreams about. The carpinter, his seat. The astronomer, her eclipse…We are all others when someone loves us or stops loving us.

And perhaps my favorite:

Que es mejor tener fiebre que tener bibliografía.

It is better to have passion than a bibliography.

Velocidad de los jardines is a true masterpiece that I am glad I’ve finally had a chance to read.

I have also review his other two books of stories Parpadeos and Técnicas de iluminación

Técnicas de iluminación (Illumination Techniques) by Eloy Tizón

Técnicas de iluminación
(Illumination Techniques)
Eloy Tizón
Páginas de Espuma, 2013, pg 163

Spanish author Eloy Tizón’s Técnicas de iluminación (Illumination Techniques) is the most aptly name collection of short stories I have read for some time, one that not only describes what he is trying to do as a writer, but also what the stories themselves are trying to do. In each case he is, quite simply, attempting to illuminate modern existence, sometimes with his narratives, but always with his language. I have not read anyone for some time who is as adept at aphorisms and the ability to capture in quick images, often in just a short sentence, not only what it means to live, but what it looks like. While Parpadeos had this element, Técnicas seems to have moved him even farther towards a poetics of experience. The stories, as I think all good writers should strive to do, are varied in style, ranging from the the dense atmospheric first story, Fotosíntesis with its nod to Robert Walser, to the desperate monolog of a lost assistant in El cielo en casa.

Fotosíntesis (Photosynthesis) shows Tizón as his most perceptive in a story that is part dialog part exploration of existence. An overwrought description? Not when describing this story, which from the opening dazzles with its fresh ways of describing what is common place. It leaves one with the first glimpse into what Tizón has suggested he is doing in the title. At the same time, the story does not fall into easy philosophizing, instead challenges the reader as the narrator takes his figurative journey into the questions of life, but always keeping too much seriousness at bay:

La ley de la gravedad no tiene por qué llevar siempre razón.
The law of gravity does not always have to make sense.

In this story, the first of the collection you can see a line from Parpadeos, but one that is even more curt, eschewing all but the barest descriptions. Yet that serves the story well as its brevity conceals an enormity of ideas, or worlds that extend out from it. It is the mark of Tizón’s immense skill that his writing keeps you excited to see how he can reveal what could so easily become pedantic in lesser hands:

Todos somos viudos de nuestra propia sombra. Sin embargo, en el instante de morir, con nuestro último aliento, todos comprenderemos que sin sospecharlo nuestros pies han bordado un tapiz.

We are all widowers of our own shadow. Nevertheless, at the moment of death, with our last breath, we all understand that without suspecting it our feet have embroidered a tapestry.

From the meditative journey into existence of Fotosíntesis  Tizón moves, as if in progression, towards the more common place, both in theme and structure, but always keeping to the exploration of techniques that illuminate our lives. In Merecía ser domingo (It Deserved to be Sunday), we have one of his narrators who is lost and finds in every day incidents something behind them that suggests a larger world.

En el silencio de la casa, en el silencio del mundo. Me han dejado a propósito aquí solo, se han ido todos. De excursión, creo. A a montaña, tal vez. O no, a la playa. Es domingo o merece ser domingo. La luz es de domingo y el azul del cielo es de domingo y el periódico está abierto en la página dominical, así que tanta insistencia empieza a ser sospechosa.

In the silence of home, in the silence of the world. They have left me here by myself on purpose, they’ve all left. On an excursion, I think. To the mountains, perhaps. Or no, to the beach. Its Sunday or deserves to be Sunday. The light is a Sunday one and the blue sky is a Sunday one and the newspaper is open on the Sunday section, so there is so much insistence that you become suspicious.

The disappearance, like everything in this story, is about absences, not the explanation of them. There are hints of why things are absent, but what really is at stake is what the narrator observes while everyone is absent. Later in the third section of this triptych as the narration moves from apartment, to street, to the forest searching for something that goes beyond Sunday in the city, but is more removed, more primal, where a concert is nothing more than the sound of a heart beat, we have this observation of futility:

Atrás quedó la ciudad con su nebulosa de oficinas en las que un funcionario se entrena durante viente años para encestar una bola de papel o una telefonista se acaricia la entrepierna.

Behind remained the city with its nebula of offices in which the employees train for twenty years to throw into a basket a ball of paper or a receptionist cresses the inner thigh.

This kind of futility is written in precise detail and finds the narrators always trying to escape them, but rarely do they have much luck. Not that these stories are particularly plot driven. What is more important is to see the layers of habit and custom that overlay all encounters.

The book, too, is playful. There is a reimagining of the story of the Wizard of Oz and moving it away from a dream to a reality contained within the farm. In El cielo en casa we have a desperate narrator who is the assistant for a star of the fashion world. Like so many of these stories the powerful and the weak employees it ends baddy, and though it is probably the weakest story in the collection (but only in comparison), it also seems Tizón’s greatest stretch in this collection, one where he moves more towards the relationships between people to illuminate what life is. The power in this story comes in the last sentence as the narrator describes in the second person, addressing to her employee, the wonder and the slow decline into hell of their relationship. Yet at the end of the story she switches to the less formal form of address. Is this a take down? A realization that the narrator isn’t someone to be mistreated and thrown away?

Llevar un lago en tu propio apellido, en tu propio pelo, qué envidia, si es que hay gente que nace ya presdentinada para ser algo grande en la vida, en esta vida, es ley de vida, por eso te lo cuento.

To carry a lake  in your own last name, en your own hair, what envy, if it is that there are people who are born and are already predestined to be something great in life, in this life, it is the law of life, and because of this I’m telling you this.

Finally, there is perhaps my favorite of this collection, or at least the one that sticks with me, which is perhaps the same thing, Cuidad Dormitorio. Again, we have a story that describes a mechanical world where one places them self at its service, ridding buses and subways long distances just to come to meaningless work. Tizón along with his excellent portrayal of a hardworking woman’s daily routine, injects a boss who asks her to get rid of a mysterious box which he says has caused him many problems. She is not to look in it and if she does she’ll have a great future with the company. The box moves from time to time, but other than that she has no idea what is in it. Does she take care of the box and enter a world of success? The dilemma is not as clear and this small touch of the fantastic amongst a world he has already described as mildly dystopian, creates yet another way of illuminating the world.

Eloy Tizón is certainly a master of the short story and Técnicas de iluminación certainly shows him at the top of his skill.

The Best Spanish Language Books of 2013

Lists of the best Spanish language books have been starting to appear in the Spanish press and blogs. The hands down winner is En la orilla’ by Chirbes and has appeared on the three lists I mention here. It is the big novel of the economic crises and special currency in Spain. You can read a review from Luis Garcia Montero at El Pais. (You can down load an epub excerpt here).

Los lectores de Chirbes llegamos hasta aquí. La realidad es una enfermedad mortal, una vejez sin piedad, un pantano, un vertedero. ¿Y ahora qué? Es el momento de preguntarse si esta radicalidad de la mirada negativa mantiene su lealtad a la lucidez o paga la factura del rencor. ¿Es que no hay nada bueno en la vida? ¿Todo ser humano es sospechoso? ¿El amor resulta siempre una estafa? El buenismo, desde luego, falsea cualquier meditación. Pero, en el otro extremo, conviene también preguntarse por el nihilismo totalitario y su voluntad absoluta de descrédito. ¿Sirven para entender la realidad? ¿No son una forma más de acomodarse a los dictados de un poder que pretende cegar cualquier alternativa? La última novela de Rafael Chirbes me ha dejado estas preocupaciones.

One of the authors I really like, Eloy Tizon’s Technicas de elumination also showed up on several lists. It is a book I will be reading shortly.

Any way, here is the list from El Pais:

1. En la orilla.Rafael Chirbes. Anagrama.

2. Intemperie. Jesús Carrasco. Seix Barral.

3. Las reputaciones. Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Alfaguara.

4. Técnicas de iluminación. Eloy Tizón. Páginas de Espuma.

5. El héroe discreto. Mario Vargas Llosa. Alfaguara.

From ABC (and via Moleskine Literario)

Mejores libros nacionales:

1. En la orilla Rafael Chirbes

2. Intemperie Jesús Carrasco

3. Divorcio en el aire Gonzalo Torné

4. Técnicas de iluminación Eloy Tizón

5. La misma ciudad Luisge Martín

6. El luthier de Delft Ramón Andrés

7. Los millones Santiago Lorenzo

8. Solsticio Carlos Llop

9. Los nombres muertos Jesús Cañada

10. Bioko Mark Cañadas

And from Sergi Bellver

Técnicas de iluminación, de Eloy Tizón (Páginas de Espuma).

En la orilla, de Rafael Chirbes (Anagrama).Intemperie, de Jesús Carrasco (Seix Barral).
Intento de escapada, de Miguel Ángel Hernández (Anagrama).
La experiencia dramática, de Sergio Chejfec (Candaya).
La hora violeta, de Sergio del Molino (Mondadori).
La mala luz, de Carlos Castán (Destino).
La sed de sal, de Gonzalo Hidalgo Bayal (Tusquets).
Las reputaciones, de Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Alfaguara).
Leche, de Marina Perezagua (Libros del Lince).
Por si se va la luz, de Lara Moreno (Lumen).
Shakespeare y la ballena blanca, de Jon Bilbao (Tusquets).
Tiempo de encierro, de Doménico Chiappe (Lengua de Trapo).
Una manada de ñus, de Juan Bonilla (Pre-Textos).

Eloy Tizón’s Técnicas de iluminación Reviewed in El Confidencial

Eloy Tizón has published a new book of short stories Técnicas de iluminación from Páginas de espuma. I thought Paparados was an excellent book and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve been looking forward to reading his new one ever since I heard it was coming out. The review makes it sound interesting.

Los mecanismos narrativos que Tizón propone para esta aventura son los habituales en su trabajo: la excelencia del idioma y ese tono medido, que jamás cae en el patetismo ni en la humorada, y que se asoma a la tragicomedia que es la vida con una feliz ausencia de retórica. En ese sentido, el primer relato del conjunto, el memorable Fotosíntesis, una (re)creación maravillosa y maravillada de Robert Walser y su universo deambulatorio, constituye la puerta de acceso idónea a un libro que confirma a Tizón como poseedor de una voz propia e innegociable, tan alejada de esa prosa de concurso que adorna a buena parte de los cuentistas españoles, y que lo reubica junto a los mejores cultivadores del género en nuestro país, caso de Cristina Fernández CubasLuis Magrinyà o Fernando Aramburu.

Escritor ajeno a la grafomanía, cuyo arco narrativo se ha venido moviendo con absoluta naturalidad entre la estampa veloz y la exigente y hermosa distancia de la nouvelle, Tizón regresa con Técnicas de iluminación al lugar que por derecho propio le pertenece, el de uno de los escritores más importantes de su generación, tanto por lo que cuenta como por el modo en que lo hace. Algo que, por sí solo, sería ya motivo de regocijo, pero que tras la lectura de este libro notable y sugestivo adquiere rango de noticia capital para nuestras letras.

New Collection of Stories from Spanish Writer Eloy Tizón to Be Published

Eloy Tizon one of the main points of reference for the modern Spanish short story will be publishing a new collection of short stories. Paginas de Espuma will be the publisher. This is good news. I was quite impressed with Parparados which I covered in my article at the Quarterly Conversation. I’m looking forward to reading it when it comes out. El Cultural has an interesting article about the struggles he has had finishing the book.

Técnicas de iluminación es un libro de relatos cuya fuente de inspiración fueron los vagabundeos de Robert Walser, “su manera de mirar, desinteresada y precisa”, explica Tizón, a quien también le resultó esencial “la necesidad de salvaguardar determinados instantes, para que no perezcan del todo. Situaciones que me hacen feliz o desgraciado o me punzan. Siempre procuro que no haya un tono uniforme, sino una mezcla: humor, poesía, drama… Cuando considero que todos los ingredientes están equilibrados, el libro se cierra solo. Pero antes hay que alcanzar ese estado”.

El proceso ha sido largo, “en parte por mi lentitud mental, y en parte por las circunstancias”, insiste. No quiere entrar en detalles, pero estos siete años ha llegado incluso a pensar “que no volvería a publicar más”. El desaliento no le hizo abandonar su disciplina, e intentó salvaguardar espacios (“normalmente por la mañana, a primera hora, con la mente fresca y un café”) en los que se sentaba frente al ordenador, “a ver qué pasaba”, a pesar de saber mejor que nadie que “la escritura y la vida cotidiana son difícilmente compatibles. Aun así , lo intento. No siempre escribo, pero mantengo la continuidad: releo, corrijo, suprimo, dudo. A base de esas tozudeces obsesivas, terminan saliendo los libros.”

My Article on Four UnTranslated Short Stories Is Up at the Quarterly Conversation

My article about four untranslated Spanish short story writers is now up at the Quarterly Conversation. It turned out really well and is a much longer form article than I normally write coming in at a little over 3K words. While I think the stories mentioned in the article are great I had to leave out so many different ones that it seems at times I haven’t written that much. Writing about short stories is always hard because you end up with some many different ones and you have to try come up with some sort of thematic element to link them together. This was esspecially the case with these four, but I think I was able to do it.

Collections of short stories are generally considered difficult to market, and thus they’re often looked down upon by editors who acquire new works of literature in the United States. This fact is no less true when it comes to editors who acquire works of foreign literature translated into English, an already notably under-represented group. To make matters worse, what stories that do get translated are often lumped into anthologies of what you might call stories from over there, which obscure the full range of an author’s talent beneath the idea that one story is a representative sample.

This is all very important in the case of Spanish literature, which in recent decades has seen a rebirth of the possibilities of the short story. For authors of what’s called the New Spanish Short Story, this tendency has hidden a great burst of creativity that began in the early 1980s and flowered during the 1990s and 2000s (the few stories that have been translated have been relegated to obscure editions unavailable in the United States). From the stories of the fantastic by Cristina Fernádez Cubas to the structural inventions of Hipólito G. Navarro and the surrealism of Ángel Zapata, Spanish short story writers have created an exciting and diverse body of work marked by its openness and dedication to pushing the boundaries of the form.

I  have also commented on other stories from Navarro and Cubas. The rest of the Quarterly Conversation looks very good, too, and definately worth reading. They have a nicely timed overview of the works of Mercè Rodoreda. (You my reviews of Death in Spring and her short stories)

Parpadeos (The Blink of an Eye) by Eloy Tizón – A Brief Review

Parpadeos (The Blink of an Eye)
Eloy Tizón
Editorial Anagrama, 2006, 141 pg

This is the third book that will be featured in an upcoming article about the Spanish Short story in Spain. Papadeos is a little bit more hit and miss than the works of Cristina Fernandez Cubas or Hipolito G. Navarro, but it definitely had some stories of note. Most of them either concentrated on re-imaginings of the everyday or re imaginings of famous tales. He is  a little more successful with the former, but the latter are more obvious. In one he describes Spock from Star Trek as bi-sexual loner who finds himself imprisoned because he accidentally sees the captain’s naked butt. In the prison planet he only finds peace when he falls in love with an alien. The story is quite the opposite of an Spock that appeared in movies or TV, but that isn’t the point. In another he explains the lives of Heidi and friends after they have grown up. All of the reworkings point back to the desire to describe the common place in new ways, and to catch the fleeting that goes by in the blink of an eye.

The State of the Short Story in Spain

La Verdad has an article about the state of the short story in Spain. It quotes critics such as Sergi Bellver who I have mentioned before. Essentially, the short story has the same problems it does in the US: low readership, publishers who prefer novels, and not good way to support yourself while writing them. Not an unknown phenomenon. At least they have the new short story prize with the € 50,000 prize and all the prizes from little towns and clubs that help keep writers going, as it did for Bolaño. The article talks about various projects by editors to publish short story collections.

Also the article mentions a few names worth following that I have mentioned many times in this blog:

Un punto que destaca Casamayor es que esta hornada de autores jóvenes y no tan jóvenes no reniegan de su condición de cuentistas sino que se sienten «orgullosos» de serlo. El editor de Páginas de Espuma cita tres nombres como figuras a las que seguir en el universo del cuento. Uno, Hipólito G. Navarro, publica en su editorial y su ‘El pez volador’ ha concitado muy buenas críticas. El segundo, Eloy Tizón, es profesor en la escuela madrileña Hotel Kafka y autor habitual de Anagrama. El tercero que destaca Casamayor es Andrés Neuman, conocido por obras de ‘largo aliento’ como ‘El viajero del siglo’, pero que ha hecho una importante contribución a la buena salud actual del género corto. Como creador, pero también como director de la colección, antes citada, ‘Pequeñas Resistencias 5’.

Otro nombre que comienza a hacer ruido es el de Matías Candeira, presente en la selección de ‘Chéjov comentado’ y que, pese a su juventud (nació en 1984) está demostrando maneras. Se estrenó en el año 2009 con ‘La soledad de los ventrílocuos’ y acaba de publicar ‘Antes de las jirafas’, un conjunto de relatos que huye de lo solemne. José Luis Pereira, responsable de la librería madrileña Tres Rosas Amarillas, la única de España dedicada en exclusiva al cuento, reconoce su talento.

Los nombres son muchos más: Jon Bilbao, Carlos Castán, Esther García Llovet o Víctor García Antón, Patricio Pron, Norberto Luis Romero, Sergi Pàmies, venerado por Enrique Vila-Matas, y todos los que vendrán.

(hat tip)