Jorge Volpi and Rosa Montero on El Publico Lee

Jorge Volpi and Rosa Montero on El Publico Lee this month. I haven’t watched the Montero, but the Volpi was quite interesting and the “public” had some good questions (the show varies in quality based on the quality of the public). Volpi has recently republished three early novellas, which to my ears, sound a little more interesting than his more political works. I didn’t like Season of Ash too much as my review can attest. You can watch the shows here.

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New Spanish Language Fiction of Note for Spring

El Pais has a two post overview of the new and noteworthy books of spring. There are some big names, probably the most famous is Javier Marias and Jorge Volpi who has had three early novellas reissued by Paginas de Espuma, and Alejandro Zambra. An authors of note not available in English of note is Rosa Montero with her book Lágrimas en la lluvia (link to El Pais). I don’t recognize many of the other authors but a few sound interesting. Read the posts here and here.

This one caught my eye, mostly because I can’t seem to get enough of short stories these days.

Cuentos rusos (Mondadori), de Francesc Seres (Zaidin, España, 1972). En 2008  obtuvo con el libro de cuentos La fuerza de la gravedad  varios premios. La traducción al español de este nuevo título también viene precedida de premios importantes en Cataluña. Me remito a un pasaje de la crítica de Lluis Satorras en Babelia: “Es uno de sus mejores libros que se compone de historias cortas pero posee una unidad fundamental, una estructura muy definida, como un raudo travelling hacia el pasado mediante la lectura de unos cuentos de supuestos autores rusos, de ahora y de muchos antes. Para dar fuste a sus propósitos, el autor construye una maquinaria precisa aunque ligera, un par de prólogos, uno de la supuesta traductora y antóloga rusa, espejo en el que se miran los relatos que vendrán a continuación, y otro del propio Serés, testimonio vital y entusiasta. Y no faltan las falsas biografías de los supuestos autores, un procedimiento ya bien arraigado en nuestras literaturas. Todo ello proporciona un plus de verosimilitud al conjunto y casi podemos creernos que estamos leyendo una pequeña historia de la literatura rusa”.

Writing Lessons From Jorge Volpi and Rosa Montero During the Guadalajara Book Fair

Jorge Volpi and Rosa Montero are taking questions from the public on writing for 2 hours every day until the Guadalajara Book Fair ends (December 5, 2010). If you would like to get their opinions on matters of writing here is your chance. I’m too busy, but ever since I was disappointed by Vopli’s most recent book in English, I’ve be curious about his approach. On the other hand, I have no patience for the 10 items Montero outlined in El Pais, they are rather tied and basic points.

La escritora española y el autor mexicano Jorge Volpi imparten un cibertaller de escritura durante la Feria del Libro de Guadalajara. Cada día, de 16.00 a 18.00, hora peninsular española, charlan con los lectores sobre los entresijos de escribir. Montero se ha estrenado con el método de la creación literaria. Estas son sus 10 claves a preguntas, también clave de los lectores.

¿Para qué se escribe?

“Uno no escribe para decir nada, sinopara aprender algo. Escribes porque algo te emociona y quieres compartir esa emoción. Y tú sin duda sientes esas emociones que son más grandes que tú, y por eso quieres escribir, ¿no? No se trata de soltar mensajes sesudos”.

¿Cómo empezar?

“Toma notas de las cosas que te llamen la atención o te emocionen. Y déjalas crecer en la cabeza. Luego, escribe un cuento en torno a una de las ideas… Para hacer dedos, también hay ejercicios. Por ejemplo, escribe un recuerdo importante de tu vida contado por otra persona. Puedes hacer ejercicios como escribir algo que hay sido muy importante en tu vida, quizá en tu infancia, pero contado desde fuera por un narrador real (por ejemplo un tío tuyo) o inventado, e incluyéndote como personaje”.

 

BabeliAmérica Spain-Latin America On-line Literary Conference Starts Monday

Babelia y El Pais have created an on-line conference that will from Monday October 4 to 10. It will feature authors and artists from Latin America. Babelia will have interviews, profiles, conversations, and other digital means of getting to know the invited artists from Latin America as they discuss the different paths of culture in Latin America. Those participating are the film makers Claudia Llosa (Perú), Marcelo Piñeyro (Argentina), Paz Fábrega (Costa Rica) y Óscar Ruiz (Colombia); the folk singer Jorge Drexler (Uruguay);  the writers Martín Caparrós (Argentina), William Ospina y Héctor Abad Faciolince (Colombia), Iván Thays (Perú), Élmer Mendoza y Jorge Volpi (México); Wendy Guerra (Cuba); the artists Carlos Garaicoa (Cuba) y Miguel Calderón (México); the historian Felipe Pigna (Argentina) and the Puerto Rican Band Calle 13. Carlos Fuentes will open the proceedings.

Except for the time zone issue, it looks like a good conference:

BabeliAmérica. Maloca cultural-virtual es un escenario digital multimedia e interactivo a través del cual invitamos a todos los internautas a disfrutar y vivir, del 4 al 10 de octubre, dos eventos clave en la capital española: VivAmérica, organizado por Casa de América, y Ágora. América Latina, 100 voces diferentes. Un compromiso común, organizado por la Fiiapp (Fundación Internacional y para Iberoamérica de Administración y Políticas Públicas).

Con una programación propia y variada, por BabeliAmérica pasarán más de veinte personajes que están marcando los derroteros culturales y artísticos de América Latina. Entre ellos los cineastas Claudia Llosa (Perú), Marcelo Piñeyro (Argentina), Paz Fábrega (Costa Rica) y Óscar Ruiz (Colombia); el cantautor Jorge Drexler (Uruguay); los escritores Martín Caparrós (Argentina), William Ospina y Héctor Abad Faciolince (Colombia), Iván Thays (Perú), Élmer Mendoza y Jorge Volpi (México); Wendy Guerra (Cuba); los artistas Carlos Garaicoa (Cuba) y Miguel Calderón (México); el historiador y experto en el bicentenario Felipe Pigna (Argentina) y la banda de música puertorriqueña Calle 13.

BabeliAmérica te acercará a todos estos y más personajes y a sus obras a través de vídeos, entrevistas, conversaciones, encuentros digitales, crónicas, diarios de la jornada, álbumes fotográficos, reportajes y una mesa redonda basada en las preguntas que ustedes formulen a los invitados, en la sede madrileña de EL PAÍS, y que podrán seguir desde sus computadores en vivo y en directo; o en el lenguaje del medio: en streaming. Será el viernes 8 de octubre y el nombre de los tres invitados lo revelaré mañana.

Como ya he dicho, la inauguración de esta fiesta en la Maloca cultural-virtual corre por cuenta de Carlos Fuentes desde Nueva York. Un día antes de que el casi centenar de creadores y otras tantas actividades entre exposiciones, foros y mesas redondas invadan Madrid. Pero antes, a las 11 de la mañana, ELPAIS.com lanzará en la Red ese escenario cultural y digital, donde se presentará toda la programación propia que llevaremos hasta sus computadores, basados en la oferta de los eventos madrileños. También se explicará en que consiste cada una de las seis secciones o salas previstas cada día, con sus respectivos horarios, que se irán llenando de contenido a medida que avance la semana, y que usted podrá consultar cuando quieran. Esas secciones son Autorretrato, Protagonistas, La cita, Diario del anfitrión, Encuentro digital y Sesión Eskup América.

Sólo basta entrar en ELPAIS.com o en este blog de Babelia, Papeles perdidos, a partir de mañana, para conocer las diferentes actividades y vivirlas desde cualquier lugar del mundo.

Martín Solares’ Mexican Noir Novel Reviewed at NY Times

Martín Solares novel The Black Minutes was reviewed by the NY Times. It is a positive review and for a crime novel it sounds a little atypical. Perhaps one of the reasons it was translated was it has a sense of the urgent with characters involved in the drug trade and corruption, something that is plaguing Mexico. While I don’t read much crime fiction, done right it can transcend the genre and become a report on its times. Considering Jorge Volpi’s call for a more committed literature, perhaps this novel is a good example in the Mexican context.

The best detective novels are those that go beyond the limitations of genre and a specific story to limn the broader society in which they take place. Mr. Solares does that in a profound but entertaining fashion here, revealing the surprising subterranean linkages that give politicians, the police, labor unions, drug cartels, the Roman Catholic Church, business interests and sectors of the press an interest in covering up the truth of the two cases.

To that end he makes especially effective and clever use of the separate time frames, one of whose purposes is to show how chronic, endemic corruption erodes the desire and ability of the individual to do the right thing, or even to act at all. Current-day Paracuán’s duplicitous police chief, Joaquín Taboada, is thus shown as a young, somewhat bumbling officer in the 1970s with the hilarious nickname El Travolta. There is also Fritz Tschanz, an immigrant Jesuit priest who knows so much and has heard so many sordid confessions over the years that his world-weariness has paralyzed him.

Over all it sounds good, but I’m not sure what ethnic types he is talking about:

But Mr. Solares is a graceful, even poetic, writer, especially in his hard-boiled dialogue and his descriptions of the wildly varied landscapes and ethnic types of northern Mexico. Though the world of “The Black Minutes” is one to inspire fear and revulsion, Mr. Solares’s descriptions of it are oddly beautiful and fascinating in the same way that overturning a rock and observing the maggots beneath can be a perversely edifying spectacle.

Jorge Volpi Interview at El País: History Is Often More Important Than Fiction in a Novel

El País offered readers a chance to submit questions to Jorge Volpi for a form of on-line interview. I took the opportunity to submit a question about Season of Ash which I reviewed for the Quarterly Conversation and found to be more interested in writing history than a novel, sacrificing character development to his thesis. I wanted to know if he thought the history was more important than the fictional elements:

When you write fiction mixed with history, what do you think is more important: the narrative and characters, or the history? I noticed in Season of Ash that at times the narrative served more to explain the history, and the characters became a method for arriving at the history.

My intention is for history and fiction to complement each other, though it is certain that in this novel I wanted the History in capital letters to have an importance as clear as the history of the characters, perhaps this provokes the sensation that the characters serve the grand History.

¿Cuando escribes ficción mezclada con historia, cual piensa es mas importante: la narrativa y los personajes o la historia? Noté en ” No será la tierra” que a veces la narrativa sirve mas para explicar la historia y los personajes se convierten en un método para llegar a la historia.

Mi intención es que historia y ficción se complementen, si bien es cierto que en esta novela quería que la Historia con mayúsculas tuviese una importancia tan clara como las historias de los personajes, acaso eso provoque la sensación de que los personajes ficticios “sirven” a la gran Historia.

It is an honest answer and confirms to his interest in writing politically engaged novels. Many of the other questions in the interview make it obvious that he is a political writer, by which I mean he wants to comment on politics and history and use fiction to explore ways of getting at these ideas. He doesn’t write from to serve a specific political base, such as the PRI or PAN, which would make him a hack. He is certainly not a hack and his commitment to working with politics and history is commendable, but it comes with risks. I think Elias Khoury from Lebanon use politics and history in his works with much better affect. Or Fernando Del Paso’s News from the Empire which has the grand sweep of history that Volpi wanted, is also a good example of how to mix the two.

As he mentioned in his lectures for Open Letter Press, he sees the younger generations as less politically engaged:

How do you see the lack of political literature and authors, lets say, or how they called it during the Boom “committed” on a continent that in the midst everything it is very political in those countries that often only breathe politics?

In effect, if we compare the present Latin American literature with that of the 60s and 70s (and after), we find an absence of political literature. On one hand, the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the USSR contributed to the disappearance of committed literature. And on the other hand, the gradual democratization of our countries made it so that politics stopped being regular material of those intellectuals and passed to the political scientists and political analysts that are part of the media. In addition, the latest generation are not only apolitical, but very apolitical. However, there continue to be examples of political literature in Latin America, you only have to mention the novel of Edmundo Paz Soldan, Ivan Thays, or Santiago Rocagliolo. And, in one sense, the literature about the violence that fills a good part of the region should also be considered political. Even this way, it is certain that writers don’t have a direct interest in contemporary politics, even the most authoritarian and picturesque.

¿Cómo ves la poca presencia de literatura política y autores digamos o como se decia en la epóca del boom “comprometidos” en un continente que en medio de todo es muy político en los países muchas veces tan solo se respira política?

En efecto, si comparamos la literatura latinoamericana actual con la de los sesentas o setentas (e incluso después), nos encontramos con la ausencia de literatura política. Por una parte, la caída del Muro de Berlín y el fin de la URSS contribuyeron a que desapareciera la literatura comprometida. Y, por la otra, la paulatina democratización de nuestros países hizo que la crítica política dejara de ser materia habitual de los intelectuales para pasar a los politólogos y a los analistas políticos de los medios. Además, las últimas generaciones no son sólo apolíticas, sino un tanto antipolíticas. Sin embargo, sigue habiendo ejemplos de literatura política en América Latina, baste mencionar las novelas de Edmundo Paz Soldán, de Iván Thays o de Santiago Roncagliolo. Y, en un sentido, la literatura sobre la violencia que prevalece en buena parte de la región también debe considerarse política. Aun así, es cierto que no parece haber un interés directo por parte de los escritores hacia nuestros políticos actuales, incluso los más autoritarios o pintorescos.

Finally, he talked about his latest novel, a free verse novel that is part fable, part history of the Holocaust. Mixing the Holocaust with non realistic elements could be interesting, or just lend itself to silliness. Hopefully, it isn’t the latter. It is an interesting approach and I would like to look it over someday, if not read it.

What made you write Dark Forest Dark, your latest novel, like a fable?

Dark Forest Dark is meant to reflect on the way everyday people can become an active part of a genocide, with Nazism in the background. However, in this meditation about innocence it seemed to me I could establish a connection between the massacres of Jews in the forests of Poland and the Ukraine, and the forests in the stories of the brothers Grimm, stories that Germans read obligatorily in those years. From this starting point I included many of their stories in the book.

¿Qué te llevó a construir Oscuro bosque oscuro, tu última novela, como una fábula? Gracias por tu literatura.

“Oscuro bosque oscuro” intenta reflexionar sobre la manera en la que la gente común se puede convertir en parte activa de un genocidio, con el nazismo como telón de fondo. Sin embargo, en esta meditación sobre la inocencia me pareció que podía establecerse una conexión entre las masacres de judíos que se producían en los bosques de Polonia y Ucrania, y los bosques de los cuentos de Grimm, que los alemanes leían obligatoriamente en esos años. De allí la inclusión de muchas de sus historias en el libro.

Forget Magical Realism-It’s The Narco Novel in Latin America

El País and Global Newsroom Americas have an articles on the boom in narco novels in Latin America. From countries like Mexico and Columbia and places like Puerto Rico, the narco novel is replacing the novel of the dictator and, instead, replacing it with stories of drug lords and the violence that comes with it.

“If we are talking about violence we are talking about narco violence,” says Cabiya while Élmer Mendoza notes that it is about the second most important business after arms trafficking: “It is not something exotic, but daily life.”

“Si hablamos de violencia hablamos de narco”, dice Cabiya mientras Élmer Mendoza apunta que se trata del segundo negocio más importante del mundo después del tráfico de armas: “No es algo exótico sino la realidad cotidiana”.

The story is all to familiar and the United States, unfortunately, is part of the problem. It seems problems never end and get recycled in fiction:

What the Paraguay of José Gaspar Rodrígues de Francia, the Dominican Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the Guatemalan Estrada Caberera or the Chilean Agusto Pinochet represented for he authors of the boom, today the leaders of the mafias from Medellín or Ciudad Juarez represent for their heirs. The capos of the drug traffickers have been substituted for the dictators en Latin American Literature. The military jeeps had given way to fleets of four by fours with tinted windows and the violence has stopped moving in the sense of vertical to colonize horizontally the entire society.

Lo que para los autores del boom representaron el paraguayo José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, el dominicano Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, el guatemalteco Estrada Cabrera o el chileno Augusto Pinochet lo representan hoy para sus herederos los jefes de las bandas mafiosas de Medellín o Ciudad Juárez. Los capos del narcotráfico han sustituido a los dictadores en la literatura latinoamericana. Los jeeps militares han dado paso a una flota de aparatosos cuatro por cuatro con cristales ahumados y la violencia ha dejado de moverse en sentido vertical para colonizar horizontalmente la sociedad entera.

The Global Newsroom Americas has a similar story in English. In both there is the notion that magical realism has out lived its usefulness, which probably over states the power of magical realism and plays into the stereotype of Latin American literature.  They do raise a valid point: when does art describe and when does it celebrate? Although they don’t make the connection the world of naro-corridos is the extreme end, where drug gangs and their members are celebrated in song. Much as gangster rap described the tough world of the streets then became a self reinforcing parody of themselves.

“Overnight, all of the elements of an eccentric and harrowing thriller arrived on the table of the Latin American writers,” says Mexican writer and scholar, Jorge Volpi. Latin American writers “hurried to incorporate drug dealers into their texts, first as a backdrop then as the centre of the action.” The traffickers acquired an almost “mythic aura,” he said, speaking last year to an audience at the University of Rochester, USA. Stories tell of poverty stricken adolescents struggling up through the ranks of drug gangs, of young hit men, as portrayed in Colombian writer, Fernando Vallejo’s novel, La Virgin de los Sicarios, (Our Lady of the Assassins), of women more beautiful than any other and of the police; underpaid and almost always corrupt.

[…]

This style of fiction is a world away from the Latin American style of magical realism, with its tales of morality and fairy stories, seen in literature such as Gabriel García Márquez’s, One Hundred Years of Solitude. The contemporary novel finds its influence in westerns and films such as The Godfather and Pulp Fiction. And writers draw on what is happening around them. Dictators have fallen out of favour, says Volpi, what interests them now is, “the enemies of the system, the criminal bands and drug dealers that are waging war against the state and their rivals.”

[…]

But for some members of the public it is not only the characters of narco-literature who are the bad guys, it’s the writers. Drug traffickers have gone mainstream. No longer are they just constrained to Mexican ballads. They are now regular stars not only in books but also in films and soap operas. And with this new found popularity comes concern. Groups such as, No more Narco books in Colombia and No more Violence nor Narco Books on Facebook, talk about social responsibility and the danger of glorifying violence and drug traffickers. Writing on, No more Narco Books, Series and Films, one member said, “With all the damage that drug trafficking has done us, television now wants to glorify it. They want to damage us with more and more violence.”