The Portable Museum Vol 2 – featuring Uhart, Levrero, Sáez de Ibarra, Salvatierra, Villoro – A Review

The Portable Museum Vol 2
featuring Hebe Uhart, Mario Levrero, Javier Sáez de Ibarra, Dany Salvatierra, Juan Villoro
Ox and Pigeon, 2013

The second volume of The Portable Museum is another interesting collection with a couple revelations. Of the authors included, I was the most familiar with Javier Sáez de Ibarra because he is well know in the Spanish short story circles that I read. Surprisingly, though, I’ve only read one of his stories. His piece, The Gift of the Word, was as interesting as I hoped. Told in a series of brief paragraphs from seven repeating narrators, the story describes the power and weakness of love. The story is not a typical  love story, especially given that one narrator describes Nietzsche’s philosophy. Instead, Sáez de Ibarra writes of the words people use to describe love and how it is constructed. Of the two collections, it is the most experimental story and shows a writer who takes real risks. I definitely want to read some more of his work.

The real revelation of the collection was Mario Levero. According to the bio, he is a bit of a cult writer and I can see why. Still, his work is fascinating and I would like to see more in English and of course I think I’ll track some down in the future. The story, The Boarding House, is a long monologue about a strange boarding house in a corrupt or totalitarian state where strange things happen, such as a phone is suddenly installed after a year of waiting. What makes his work intriguing is not only the byzantine world he creates, but his writing style which flows in fantastical impressions that are hard to grasp at first, but slowly create a dystopian view of the world. For my money, the story is worth the price of  the issue.

Conversation by the Pond from Dany Salatierra was also interesting in its fantastical story of a daughter trying to escape her mother’s control. What made it notable was the daughter burned the mother in a rage, but then was forced to take care of her charred body that is given to over heating. It is a nice play on the rage and fury that was in their relationship before the fire.

The Juan Villoro piece is a humorous piece about Mexican macho culture told through a mariachi who makes an independent film. The film gives him cache as a hip singer, but it also turns him into a sexual image that he is unable to sustain and uncomfortable. It wasn’t as compelling a story as I might have liked, but I it is a window into Mexico similar to Down the Rabbit Hole.

I should mention there was also a story from Heve Uhart, but it was least interesting of the stories, mostly because I don’t have too much stories for anything related to academia in my fiction.

In all, another good collection.

FTC Notice: The publisher provided me with this book. Thanks for the book.


Best Books of the Year Round up: Spanish Language Press

Here is my not comprehensive list of best books of the year compiled by the various Spanish language presses of note.

Revista Ñ breaks their lists into 5 sections: Argentine narratives, foreign narratives, essays, poetry, and various. Below are the Argentine novels. The Juan José Saer is an unfinished collection of drafts and pieces. It is on the list, but I’m doubtful. If they hadn’t made mention of Steven King in the write up, Luciano Lamberti’s stories sound interesting. Leopoldo Brizuela’s novel won the Alfaguara this year and sounds interesting too.

  • El viento que arrasa de Selva Almada (Mardulce)
  • Papeles de trabajo de Juan José Saer (Seix Barral)
  • Una misma noche de Leopoldo Brizuela (Alfaguara)
  • El amor nos destrozará de Diego Erlan (Tusquets)
  • Borgestein de Sergio Bizzio (Mondadori)
  • El loro que podía adivinar el futuro de Luciano Lamberti (Nudista)
  • Canción de la desconfianza de Damian Selci (Eterna Cadencia)

From El Páis comes several lists, including best translated book (there’s no shame in that over there and always worth a look to see what they think is important in foreign literature). The El Páis edition also includes a Saer book, but this one looks more promising, his complete short stories: Juan José Saer Cuentos completos (El Aleph). I’m not familiar with Luis Landero, their number one, but the others on the list are old standbys and I’m a little dubious if they are really the best of the year. I have read some good reviews of the Cercas book though.

From ABC in Spain we have a list that doesn’t really catch my eye. It is very heavy on fascism, nazis and war. I’m not sure where their head has been this year. I will say they have picked from a wide range of publishers. I think most are small press. (nod to Moleskine) Bonus coverage of the critics talking about why they chose certain books.

  • Contra toda esperanza, Nadiezhda Mandelstam (Acantilado).
  • Malaparte. Vidas y leyendas, Maurizio Serra (Tusquets).
  • Continente salvaje, Keith Lowe (Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores).
  • Guardianas nazis. El lado femenino del mal, Mónica González Álvarez (EDAF).
  • Noches azules, Joan Didion (Mondadori).
  • Algún día este dolor te será útil, Peter Cameron (Libros del Asteroide).
  • El diablo a todas horas, Donald Ray Pollock (Libros del Silencio).
  • La cápsula del tiempo, Miqui Otero (Blackie Books).
  • ¿Por qué nos gustan las guapas?, Todo Rafael Azcona en La Codorniz (Pepitas de calabaza y Fulgencio Pimentel).
  • Me hallará la muerte, Juan Manuel de Prada (Destino).

From La Vanguardia in Barcelona we have the bonus list of the best in Catalan. But since I only speak Spanish I’ll leave that to you to investigate. There are some of the usual names here (Marias, Cercas, Vila-Matas). The Lusi Landero from El Páis’s list made it to the list. Andres Neuman was listed, too. I’m looking forward to the book. I already have my copy and will be reading it in the near future.  Juan Villoro’s new novel made it on to the list. I’ve been on the fence with the reviews I’ve heard of it. He always strikes me as more of a non fiction writer. Perhaps if I read the book I might change my mind.

Título: El país imaginado
Autor: Eduardo Berti (Buenos Aires, 1964)
Editorial: Impedimenta

Título: Aire de Dylan
Autor: Enrique Vila-Matas (Barcelona, 1948)
Editorial: Seix Barral

Título: Perros que ladran en el sótano
Autor: Olga Merino (Barcelona, 1965)
Editorial: Alfaguara

Título: Mala índole
Autor: Javier Marías (Madrid, 1951)
Editorial: Alfaguara

Título: Lo que cuenta es la ilusión
Autor: Ignacio Vidal-Folch (Barcelona, 1956)
Editorial: Destino

Título: Absolución
Autor: Luis Landero (Alburquerque, 1948)
Editorial: Tusquets

Título: Las leyes de la frontera
Autor: Javier Cercas (Ibahernando, 1962)
Editorial: Mondadori

Título: Arrecife
Autor: Juan Villoro (México, 1956)
Editorial: Anagrama

Título: Victus
Autor: Albert Sánchez Piñol (Barcelona, 1965)
Editorial: La Campana

Título: Hablar solos
Autor: Andrés Neuman
Editorial: Alfaguara

El Cultural from Spain has an interesting list. I found their list last year one of the more interesting ones (and 100% Spanish, I believe; no Latin Americans). Their top pick is the Spanish writer José María Merino’s realistic novel. He’s generally thought of a writer of the fantastic and a short story writer, though not exclusively. I just finished one of his books and a review will becoming shortly, but his work is interesting and wide ranging. His interviews are worth a read, too.

  • El río del Eden, José María Merino (Alfaguara)
  • Absolución, Luis Landero (Tusquets)
  • Años lentos, Fernando Aramburú (Tusquets)
  • El Tango de la Guardia Vieja, Arturo Pérez Reverte (Alfaguara)
  • Las Leyes de la Frontera, Javier Cercas (Tusquets)
  • La hija del Este, Clara Usón (Seix Barral)
  • Las voces del Pamano, Jaumé Cabré (Destino)
  • La cabeza en llamas, Luis Mateo Diez (Galaxia Gutemberg)
  • Medusa, R. Menéndez Salmón (Seix Barral)
  • Ayer no más, Andrés Trapiello (Destino)

Their write up of Landero’s book is quite succinct:

Con pericia de narrador en plena madurez, Landero (Alburquerque, Badajoz, 1948) relata en Absolución las aventuras de Lino, un treintañero conflictivo, tierno y desvalido, de muchos oficios y poco asiento. Con él se cruzan personajes casi tan raros como él, excéntricos y quijotescos, a los que Landero retrata con una mirada cordial, piadosa y distante hasta construir , en palabras de Santos Sanz Villanueva, “una excelente novela, divertida y triste, cálida, repleta de seres entrañables, que además se atreve a plantear, con lucidez y humor, con más melancolía que tragedia aparente, el irresoluble arcano de nuestra misteriosa existencia y enigmático destino”.

The Columbian Magazine Semana has this list (nod to Moleskine). Two items of note: a book of creative writing from indigenous authors; and a book from James Thurber (What?).

1. Memoria por correspondencia, de Emma Reyes.
2. Crímenes, de Ferdinand von Schirach.
3. Abandonarse a la pasión, de Hiromi Kawakami.
4. Lenguaje creativo de las etnias indígenas de Colombia, de varios autores.
5. Elegía, de Mary Jo Bang.
6. Érase una vez en Colombia, de Ricardo Silva Romero.
7. El desafío de la memoria, de Joshua Foer.
8. Doce relojes, de James Thurber.
9. El incendio de abril, de Miguel Torres.
10. Los hermanos Cuervo, de Andrés Felipe Solano.

Finally, El ADN Cultura from “La Nación” has a list you can read here. It is long and has a lot of translations on it–including Steven King, so just by that it is a dubious list. Perhaps, translation makes him better.

Mexican Novelist Juan Villoro’s New Novel Profiled

Mexican novelist Juan Villoro has published his newest book and El Pais has a profile of the book and author, and a review. The Profile is the much more interesting piece of the two. Juan Villoro is not too well known in the English speaking world, but is well respected for his writing that often revolves around crime writing. You can see that in the recent Words Without Borders issue on the drug war in Mexico and the recent book of non-fiction about Latin America that he edited. His work looks interesting and perhaps with the interest in crime fiction in Mexico he’ll be translated into English.

En el origen de los relatos de Juan Villoro (México, 1956) suele ocultarse una imagen o un sueño detenido. En Arrecife (Anagrama), el núcleo argumental básico se corresponde con una postal paradisiaca, en un hotel de descanso en el Caribe, como hay tantos en México, pero en el lateral, una situación, que no se identifica si es de juego o de violencia, altera el paisaje. Esa arista perturbadora tiene que ver con la búsqueda de emociones fuertes y el contexto de violencia en que se mueve México, con cuerpos que aparecen decapitados en lugares imprevistos, como Acapulco, antaño edén turístico. “Me gustó poner en tensión ambas cosas. El narco y los clientes de un resort ansiosos de peligros controlados”, cuenta Juan Villoro, en su piso del Eixample barcelonés, decorado en un estilo minimalista, con los muebles justos y espacio para moverse. El escritor, uno de los autores de culto de su país, acaba de regresar de México. Vive entre los dos continentes. Ha gestionado la entrevista por su cuenta, sin agentes ni editores de por medio. Sobre la mesa de la cocina reposa el ordenador encendido. Escribe por las mañanas, en lo que denomina un horario bancario, regado con café. En un rato, saldrá para la Universidad Pompeu Fabra, donde imparte clases de literatura.

Con los alumnos debatirá sobre la importancia del cuento en América Latina, pero esta mañana su interés se centra en la violencia de los narcos y cómo han convertido los asesinatos en mensajes, según las distintas maneras de matar; unos los envuelven en mantas y otros practican la llamada corbata colombiana (sacar la lengua por la garganta). A través de ese discurso de la violencia se identifica a los autores de manera que las víctimas se conviertan en mensajes del horror y así matan dos veces. La situación suena escalofriante. Hasta ahora, los mexicanos vivían en dos mundos diferenciados, el de la violencia y el de la vida común, pero el crimen organizado se ha convertido ya en otra normalidad. En algunas regiones del país funcionan escuelas para narcos, hospitales donde son atendidos, clubes deportivos donde están inscritos e iglesias para ellos. “La vida mexicana transita del apocalipsis al carnaval y en ocasiones mezcla las dos categorías”, como su nueva novela.

March 2012 Words Without Borders: The Mexican Drug War

The new Words Without Borders is out now. It is an issue I’ve been looking forward to for sometime, especially since I donated to the Kick Starter campaign. The issue is a mix of non-fiction and fiction all addressing the drug war. I’ve read Volpi before and he can be insightful. I’m looking forward to reading the Juan Villoro. I’ve seen his name several times in the collection of reporting that was recently published in by Anagrama.

Guest Editor Carmen Boullosa

What is it like to grow up in a country where the only safe place you can gather with friends is in your own home? How do you raise a family when going to the supermarket is fraught with the danger of being kidnapped?  This is the situation in Mexico, where the drug wars have transformed the country into a living hell. Guest editor Carmen Boullosa has assembled compelling essays, interviews, fiction, and poetry from Mexican writers on the impact of this bloody conflict. In their eyewitness reports, Luis Felipe Fabre, Rafael Perez Gay, Yuri Herrera, Rafael Lemus, Fabrizio Mejia Madrid, Hector de Mauleon, Magali Tercero, Jorge Volpi, and Juan Villoro document the crisis and demand the world’s attention.

From the other side of the world, we present poetry commemorating last year’s Japanese earthquake, and launch a new serial about an unexpected pig.