Letras Libres has a fairly negative review of Samanta Schweblin’s latest book. I have been curious about her work and have written a reflection on her works recently. I haven’t decided where I fall when thinking about her work. It can be interesting, but at least one story I read seemed too safe.
¿Qué necesidad tendríamos de ver elevada la temperatura dramática? Acaso mi reparo sea moral, pero también es literario –no creo que los dos adjetivos se hallen para nada distantes uno del otro. Como metáfora de una fisura secreta, la anomalía puede abrir una percepción de la naturaleza paradójica de seres humanos que, al no tener la valentía para ser sus propios verdugos, asignan ese papel a sucesos disruptivos ante los cuales no hay manera –o eso pienso– de mantener la indiferencia. En cambio, por timorata, la pesquisa en torno de la conducta humana, en Pájaros de la boca, se queda en lo superficial.
Y si repite, abaratado (la anomalía sin la consecuencia profunda), el mecanismo propio de Kafka o el primer Buzzati –si no incorpora una variación que surja del temperamento o la circunstancia epocal–, el discípulo permanece en esa condición al revelar sometimiento a la parte más obvia de un método urdido por otros, lo que podría interpretarse como oportunismo: aunque incompleta, la lección ya canónica es fácilmente aplaudida por el lector conformista, sobre todo si nos encontramos ante una prosa sin exigencias, léxicamente seducida por la pobreza y la palidez y negada a la audacia técnica debido acaso a la propensión formulera por finales sorpresivos que, a estas alturas de la repetición, son de lo más predecibles (en “Bajo tierra”, el viejo que cuenta la historia de los niños perdidos en un pueblo minero termina siendo él mismo un minero). Sobre todo una cosa: el texto narrativo puede ser clasicista en su ejecución y austero en su trabajo prosístico cuando la perspectiva de lo vital que la voz literaria presenta es discordante y nueva, y no una reiteración edulcorada de lo que otros antes con mayor hondura han patentado.
¿Para qué ofuscar al comodino lector con una prospección dramática que, si perturbadora, es por lo mismo de aprobación incierta? Supongamos el caso: me subo a los hombros de un gigante, pero en vez de ponerme de pie, estirar los brazos hacia las alturas y lanzar lejos la vista y la voz, mejor cierro los ojos y busco encogerme, guardo silencio aferrándome por el temor a caer o a superar, con el arrojo propio, al gigante que me hospeda. De ese modo, no habré de caer nunca, pero también me niego el mirar lejos, hacia una nueva y mayor distancia. Así estas ficciones. Sobre los hombros de Kafka, se niegan el privilegio de arriesgarse a la victoria sobre Kafka. ~
Granta has placed writing from its best Spanish Language writers online (via New Pages). This is a good chance to sample some of the edition for free.
From the print edition, free to read online:
Samanta Schweblin is an Argentine author, one of Granta’s young Spanish language novelists. Little of her work is available in English except for the Granta piece and a story at Words Without Borders. I’ve had the chance to read the story at Words Without Borders and the four stories that are available in Spanish on her website and I have found them inventive and true to her goal, stories that border on the fantastic but could also be real (she explains this in her interview at Canal-l). Interestingly, I think the story at Words Without Borders is my favorite so if you are interested in reading her work you have the perfect opportunity. The story, Preserves, is about what might be called a reverse pregnancy. The character wants to delay her pregnancy and comes up with a unique method of doing it, only to find perhaps it wasn’t what she wanted. The story is obviously fantastic, but it shows her interest in using one element of the unexplainable and letting it reshape what might be an otherwise common story. Even in doing that, though, the story is actually mostly realistic in style. She’s not give to rhetorical flourishes and lets the element of the fantastic be the flourish. The work in Spanish I liked the most was Perdiendo Velocidad (Loosing Velocity). It is a micro story of no more than 1000 words about a a human canon ball who is loosing velocity. Really, he is loosing his desire to live, but it is as if to be a cannon ball is the only thing he can be. It shows a good ability to grasp just the essential details. I almost debated buying the book last summer, but I decided I have enough Spanish language short story collections that are unread to keep me busy for a while. However, I think I will try to check it out when the pile shrinks again. I’m finding these semi fantastic stories are a nice change from the well written stories about suburban decay.
The Guardian has a review of the Grant 113 Young Spanish Language Novelists. Surprisingly , the reviewer found that they are not as bold as the previous generations. I haven’t had a chance to read the edition yet since my Spanish copy has gotten lost in the mail, but it seems a given that these kind of criticisms come along. I’m still holding out for some good things, and the Samanta Schweblin has been interesting. I just got Andres Neuman’s latest novel so we’ll see some time this year how that works out. It also sounds like from the quote below that the editors didn’t search hard enough, because there are definitely Spanish Language writers that follow in the Cortazar tradition rather than the Carver.
In Pola Oloixarac’s “Conditions for the Revolution”, the young female narrator looks disdainfully at her mother’s pitiful attempts to believe that revolution is still possible in Argentina. Several authors are concerned with the links or lack of them between the generations; others offer gentle examples of the passage from adolescence to adulthood. As the editors point out: “the writers in this issue . . . tell stories which are quotidian”. They take their cue from Carver rather than Cortázar, only occasionally showing any appetite for formal invention or the fantastic.
Overall, there is a sense that these writers have lost much of the boldness of their predecessors. Their talents lie in half-tones, in ironies or close observation, their canvases are deliberately small. This generation is almost entirely urban, and is more likely to have travelled to New York than their rural hinterlands. And while in Grantaland there are eight Argentine writers and six Spaniards, there is only one Mexican, and no one from central America or the Caribbean.
Andres Neuman, Andres Felipe Solano and Santiago Roncagliolo were interviewed on the BBC about their work and their take on Latin American Literature. It is a brief interview, but interesting to hear what they have to say. I can’t help but think, though, that these interviewers need to work a little harder and find questions besides those about magical realism.
Three Percent has reprinted the English introduction to Granta’s Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists. It is a good read for anyone interested in some of the thoughts that went into putting together the collection and some more general thoughts on writing and publishing in the Spanish and English speaking worlds.
Here’s the final part of the unedited version of Aurelio Major and Valerie Miles’s introduction to the special issue of Granta dedicated to “Young Spanish Novelists.” Part I is available here, Part II, here, Part II here, and you can download a Word doc of the entire piece by clicking here.
From the third post:
If a good part of contemporary Spanish literature seems eccentric to Europe, Latin America has always been the literary Far West, offering another way of being European, if you wish, since the traditions there incorporate all sources, not only their own. No other language shares the same territorial expanse (nor population) in contiguous “nations”. Its modernity seemed peripheral until its literature became contemporary of all men in the sixties: it brought about a renovation in the metropolises of various languages, thus moving the periphery into the center. The intellectual meridian has not passed through Madrid for over a century, although the publishing meridian cuts across both Madrid and Barcelona, where writers can be found building their reputations, which then furthers their regional prestige. The controversy over whether there are national literatures in Latin America has long become the stuff of historians, and we prefer to sustain, without excessive romanticisms, that the literary homeland is the language itself. Although in reality all literature is a magma of forces and traditions or trends in opposition, fluctuation and influence; of the living and the dead, of all languages—as is proven by reading the authors selected for this issue—and put in circulation by other hidden legislators: the translators, the editors and the critics (since without criticism there is no literature, either). In order to discover this, though, one needs to know the works, and this can only be done by reading, obviously, in translation. This issue, for example. Need we be reminded that a literary culture in which there is no translation is doomed to repeating the same things to itself over and over again?
The Samanta Schweblin interview on Canal-L is definitely worth watching. From the way she talks she falls into the group of writers stemming from Cortazar who mix reality with the fantastic, but try to keep the two blurred, as if they were interchangeable. I’d be curious to read her book of stories as I am on a bit of a kick to read stories that blur the two.