Excerpt of The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira at Bomb

This came out a little while, but I can’t let it go by unnoticed. Bomb has an the first chapter of The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira

One day at dawn, Dr. Aira found himself walking down a treelined street in a Buenos Aires neighborhood. He suffered from a type of somnambulism, and it wasn’t all that unusual for him to wake up on unknown streets, which he actually knew quite well because all of them were the same. His life was that of a half-distracted, half-attentive walker (half absent, half present) who by means of such alternations created his own continuity, that is to say, his style, or in other words and to close the circle, his life; and so it would be until his life reached its end—when he died. As he was approaching fifty, that endpoint, coming sooner or later, could occur at any moment.

(via  Scott)

Milestones of Latin american Literature Before the Boom

El Pais has an interesting list of the important works of the 20th century from Latin America, before the boom. Like any list it is flawed but is an interesting starting point and a nice way to see that there was literature before the Boom.

1918 Los heraldos negros. César Vallejo

Cuentos de la selva. Horacio Quiroga

1920 El hombre muerto. Horacio Quiroga

1922. Trilce. César Vallejo

1924. La vorágine. José Eustasio Rivera

Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. Pablo Neruda

1926. Don Segundo sombra. Ricardo Güiraldes

El juguete rabioso. Roberto Arlt

Cuentos para una inglesa desesperada. Eduardo Mallea

New Book of Interviews with Boom Authors to be Published in Spanish

El Pais has an interview with Robert Saladrigas who has published a book (Voces del boom) of interviews with authors of the Boom. It is a collection of previously published essays. I’d be curious to see what the interviews are like. Saladrigas has some interesting things to say about the authors in the interview. Rulfo sounds a little unhinged at times, including politically. I wish there was a sample chapter so I could say whether the book is any good.

P. El propio Rulfo decía que aquello no iba a terminar como había empezado. “La Revolución cubana no es ya lo que fue ni lo que prometió ser. En cambio [decía, refiriéndose a la época de Allende, era 1971], Chile está viviendo ahora la experiencia más bonita de Latinoamérica”.

R. Exacto, y hablaba desde México, estaba muy cerca de nosotros… Pero gente como Vargas Llosa, por ejemplo, no decían eso mismo en voz alta. Lo hacía gente como Rulfo, un hombre ya muy mayor que lo veía desde otra perspectiva. Y lo que dice de Chile hay que verlo desde la perspectiva de entonces; desde ahora, claro, se entendería peor.

P. En su libro aparecen ya los rasgos dramáticos de Donoso, Sarduy y Puig, seres que reflejaban una angustia que no se compadecía con su espectáculo exterior.

R. Muy cierto. Fíjate que, además, en el caso de Donoso hoy es casi inconcebible el éxito de un libro como El obsceno pájaro de la noche. No lo leería nadie. Y en aquel momento nos fascinaba. Pero visto en perspectiva, en efecto, el aspecto de algunos de los que has mencionado resultaba patético, alegres y tan tristes.

Sergio Chejfec’s Translator, Heather Cleary, on Chejfec’s Approach to Writing

Heather Cleary, Sergio Chejfec’s translator, has a fascinating take on his approach to language. She notes that he has a way of distancing the reader at the same time he brings the reader in.

Reading Sergio Chejfec, I’m always struck by the way his prose both deflects and draws the reader in, never allowing complete immersion in the narrative: whether explicitly or implicitly, the medium in which the story is told is under constant scrutiny. In other words, I’m struck by the way Chejfec’s language is never “natural.” He discusses this aspect of his work in a beautiful essay titled “Simple Language, Name,” which hinges on the capaciousness of the word “nombre” (both “name” and, grammatically, “noun”). The piece begins with a reflection on the necessary illusion of linguistic transparency, and then delves into the particular kind of access to personal histories and collective traditions that surnames allow.

The full article is worth reading for this Argentine author. (via)

Guardian Podcast: Latin American novels and poetry

The Guardian has a great podcast this week on Latin American novels and poetry. Mostly the podcast is concerned with describing Latin American writers since the boom (partly prompted by the passing of Carlos Fuentes). They make the case, one that is relatively true, that Latin American writers are not interested in trying to describe their countries or define what it is to be Latin American, as was common in the Boom. They have different interests, often times more literary or experimental. Also included at the link is a list of suggested reading. Definitely, worth checking out.

The Future is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction – A Brief Review

The Future is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction
Diego Trelles Paz, ed
Open Letter, 2012, 254 pg

I won’t say too much about the book since I will be reviewing it for the Quarterly Conversation. It was a good book. As with any collection of short stories there were a few stories that didn’t interest me much, but the over all quality was good. Reading stories that come from outside the American tradition is always nice because I don’t have to be bothered with the craft of the story, since the authors tend to have different interests in writing. I did find the introduction slightly annoying, mostly because it promised something that the stories did not deliver: reactions to the recent past. The editor notes how important that the connections to the history of dictatorships, etc is in their work, but that is rarely mentioned in the stories. It is the fault of the introduction not the writers, for advancing that idea. Also his effort to locate the book  in the context of a new Latin American writing that has gone past the Boom and the McOndo of Alberto Fuguet, doesn’t quite work. Many of these stories have a Fuguet quality and don’t seem so distant from the his McOndo style.

All of these are quibbles, since the stories, on the whole, are good. I will leave it at that until the review comes out.

La furia de las pestes (The fury of plague) by Samanta Schweblin – A Review

La furia de las pestes
Samanta Schweblin
Fondo Editorial Casa de las Americas, 2008, 111 pg

For readers of Spanish language literature in translation Samanta Schweblin’s name is slowly getting a little more notice. She has appeared in Words Without Borders, the Granta 22 best Young Writers in Spanish, and will appear in the forth coming The Future is Not Ours from Open Letter. However, with such spotty coverage it is hard to get a good sense of this writer’s work, a writer who has earned the respect of many of contemporary Spanish Language short story writers.It is a shame because her reputation as a short story writer to watch is deserved.

La furia de las pestes is Schweblin’s second book and won the Casa del las Americas short story prize in 2008. A couple of the stories have been translated into English: Conservas, which appeared in Words Without Borders (where I first encountered her work), and En la estepa, which is in The Future is Not Ours. Both of these stories are marked by the fantastic and show her at her best. Conservas is the story of a woman who reverses her pregnancy over the course of months, slowly shrinking it down until there is nothing left of it. Ultimately, it is a bitter sweet moment when she realizes that what she wanted so badly is perhaps not quite for the best. It nicely turns what easily could have turned into a didactic story on women’s rights, and gets at a more emotionally wrenching truth that there is no answer to such dilemmas. En la estepa (On the Stepe) is a fantastic story, yet one where the fantastic is only alluded to and like here best work, plays on customs most people would know, but are just a little strange and call into question those very customs. Throughout the story the characters keep mentioning some sort of creature that all want and that the lucky ones have found on the stepe. The first time I read it I thought it was just a story about a beast (and uninteresting at that), but when you look at the language everything the characters says are the words one uses when expecting a child. Used in a different context they sound abusive, selfish and it makes one question exactly what one is talking about when talking about children.

Those stories are available in English. But what about the rest of the stories? One thing that is obvious is that she is not tied to the fantastic. In two stories Papa Noel duerme en casa (Santa Claus Slept at My House) and Mi hermano Walter (My Brother Walter), she uses depression as a form of the fantastical. In each the characters loose contact with an accessible reality and their actions, naturally, seem strange. Interspersed with in stories of the fantastic, it underscores the strange nature of depression. The depression is not treated lightly and Papa Noel duereme en casa has a troubling vision of a marriage coming to an end and narrated by a young girl. Or in a story called Cosas que se tiran (The Things That Are Thrown), where a the narrator’s partner throws all their possessions into the shower before leaving, there is just a glimpse of something dying (the story is only 2 pages long). It forms a recurring theme of loss that leaves a dull ache for the unobtainable and at the same time a mater of fact sense of attachment to those losses, as if the narrators are so accustomed to them there is nothing one can do. That sense is most evident in El hombre sirena (The Merman), about a woman who meets a merman who is sitting on a dock. He offers her something different, but she doesn’t take him up on it. Or at least that is the suggestion, because she drives away with her brother to the waiting doctor. Is this another depressed person? She is obliviously anxious when she gets in the car to drive away. And like so many of her stories, the narrator says, perhaps tomorrow there will be another one waiting for me. The unspoken future is mostly likely not too much better.

The title story is a nice nod to Juan Rulfo about a man who goes to a forgotten village and tries to get the people to say something. It is one of those lost villages out of The Burning Plain (El llano en llamas) where everyone stays in their stone homes when a stranger comes to town. The twist her is when he tries get the people to talk and offers them something he thinks will help, it only reminds them of what they don’t have.

Finally,Cabezas contra el asfalto (Heads Against the Asphalt) is dark story about art. It opens with the shocking lines

Si golpeás much la cabeza de alguien contra al asfalto–aunque sea para hacerlo entrar en razón–, es probable que termines lastimándolo.

If you hit someone’s head a bunch of times against the asphalt–even though you are doing it for their own good–you’ll probably end up hurting it.

From there it follows a narrator who from time to time gets angry and beats people’s heads against the asphalt. As a child it gave him power because bullies would leave him alone. At other times it terrified people. However, he is able to channel the anger into painting. He becomes famous painting pictures of heads beat against the asphalt. His paintings sell for millions of dollars. All that matters is the frame of reference and beating someone’s head against the asphalt is perfectly acceptable. The narrator is completely detached from what is acceptable and it throws into relief which beatings are acceptable and which are not. The story ends with the ultimate taboo, but as far as the narrator is concerned it was just another beating. It didn’t matter who the person was, he just made him angry and he had to beat him. Unfortunately, for him reality is not self constructed.

Samanta Schweblin’s stories can be deceptively simple, but when she is at her best the stories open up new realities from ones that surround us every day. He ability to turn the language of child rearing into something dark, or reimagine a fairytale like the Little Mermaid as a series of indecisive acts, make one of the more interesting writers coming from Latin America.