Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman – Reviewed by Juan Gabriel Vásquez in the Guardian

Juan Gabriel Vásquez has a solid review of  Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman in the Guardian. If you haven’t read about the book, perhaps this is the review to interest you in reading it. (You can always read my review here.)

Traveller of the Century doesn’t merely respect the reader’s intelligence: it sets out to worship it. An unusual talent is required to pull this off, and Neuman has it. Perhaps the awareness of dealing with an imaginary place has made him watch his world all the more closely, and with language so vivid and new you will find yourself reading as if you were rereading: for the pleasure of detail, imagery and style (all magnificently rendered by translators Nick Caistor and Lorenza García, who had a daunting task before them). Neuman, born in Argentina but raised in Andalusia, is a poet and aphorist as well as a fiction writer, and his virtuosity in the short distances does wonderful things to the long novel: the attention he pays to one of his main characters is the same he pays to the sound of an adjective while describing the wind, or a dog’s ears, or light.

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Javier Marías – I don’t play tricks that’s why I write in first person

Javier Marías was at the Hay festival and was interviewed by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. El Pais offers a summation of their conversation. The most interesting thing out of the article is his statement, “I don’t play tricks, that’s why I write in first person.” Interesting statement, but first person is a trick too. Since I haven’t read any of his works, I guess I can’t say how that strategy works in practice.

Las difusas, cambiantes, dubitativas, etéreas y ondulantes voces de la narrativa de Marías tienen un componente líquido y obsesivo. Tanto, que Constanza es un nombre que, de haber nacido mujer, le habría hecho justicia. Por la perseverancia, por el empecinamiento, por esa tendencia al aislamiento consagrado a la literatura tan marcado en él. Valga un ejemplo técnico. “No hago trampas. Por eso escribo en primera persona. [Emphasis mine] Es una decisión que tomé hace tiempo, en 1986, con El hombre sentimental y desde entonces no he dejado de buscar maneras de sortear las dificultades que me supone”, aseguró.

Lejos queda hoy del solvente y académico Marías el chaval de 19 años que escribió Los dominios del lobo. Ahora, con 60, algunos le siguen llamando el “joven Marías”. Y lejos está él de renegar de aquella primera novela. “Es mi obra más divertida”. Una reivindicación de la imaginación y el territorio del escritor frente, dice él, “al daño que nos hizo el realismo social”. Desde entonces hasta ahora han pasado 40 años y un recorrido de éxito constante, la búsqueda de un estilo basado en la indagación interior, la verdad íntima, la especulación como manera de conocer la verdad que le ha llevado a la conclusión de que la novela es un arte de reconocimiento: “Lo mismo que otros géneros lo pueden ser de conocimiento, la novela lo es de reconocimiento. Y digo esto en cuanto a que nos permite saber cosas que sabíamos, pero no teníamos idea de ellas hasta que no las leemos en una novela”. Una gran verdad que le ha llevado a afirmar también, como recordaba Vásquez, “que el ser humano necesita conocer lo posible además de lo cierto y lo que pudo ser, además de lo que fue”.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez Wins the 2011 Alfaguara Prize

The Columbian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez won the 2011 Alfaguara Prize for his book El ruido de las cosas al caer. You can read the full notice at El Pais and also an excerpt of his book.

El Premio Alfaguara ha recaído este año en uno de los jóvenes autores en lengua española cuya obra más unanimidad ha despertado en los últimos tiempos: el colombiano afincado en Barcelona Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Nacido en Bogotá en 1973, Vásquez ha obtenido el galardón por El ruido de las cosas al caer, una novela que el jurado ha presentado como “un negro balance de una época de terror y violencia”, en una capital colombiana “descrita como un territorio literario lleno de significaciones”. Para ese balance, el novelista se vale de los recuerdos y peripecias de Antonio Yammara, empezando por la “exótica fuga y posterior caza de un hipopótamo, último vestigio del imposible zoológico con el que Pablo Escobar exhibía su poder”. Al dubitativo Yammara se suma la figura de Ricardo Laverde, un antiguo aviador de tintes faulknerianos que ha pasado 20 años en la cárcel y que, en cierto sentido, representa a la generación de los padres del protagonista.

‘The Informers’ by Juan Gabriel Vásquez reviewed at the Los Angles Times

The Los Angles Times has a good review of The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. I’ve seen other reviews of the book (if I was a better blogger I would actually link to it) and they were all good. The book is an interesting mix of history and story telling that ranges over the last 60 years of Columbian and European history:

“The Informers” is narrated by Gabriel Santoro, a Bogotá reporter and author of a book that recounts the life story of a Jewish German immigrant named Sara Guterman whose family was one of many to escape to Colombia during the early years of Nazism. The primary distinction of “A Life in Exile,” this book within a book, is the review it receives from Santoro’s identically named father. The elder Santoro, a professor with a reputation as the moral conscience of the embattled nation, inexplicably savages the book in a prominent newspaper.

When his son confronts him, the scholar elaborates on his dismissal: “Memory isn’t public. . . . [T]hose who through prayer or pretense had arrived at a certain conciliation, are now back to square one. . . . you come along, white knight of history, to display your courage by awakening things . . . you and your parasitical book, your exploitative book, your intrusive book.”

The plot gets more complicated as it goes on and you’ll have to read the review to see more, but Adam Mansbach’s conclusion should make that an easy decision.

Vásquez is a hugely skilled writer, his prose weighted with authority and carefully observed detail, and he is a dexterous weaver of voices and time periods. “The Informers” fares best when he allows his protagonist to stay in the moment, to build scenes instead of imagining wide swaths of the past. The journalist’s visit to Enrique Deresser is gripping: revelatory and elusive, understated and devastating. Sara Guterman’s recollection of an explosive 1943 dinner the Deressers held for a Nazi named Bethke is deeply dramatic, rife with tension and complexity. The emotional impact of such scenes — in which a nation’s unresolved pain is distilled, writ small, in the actions of a single man or the volleys exchanged over a dinner table — hints at the power of which Vásquez is capable.