Lucía Puenzo (Granta in Spanish under 40) Profiled in El Pais

Lucía Puenzo, one of the Granta in Spanish under 40, was profiled in El Pais last weekend. If you have read that edition of Granta you should take a look at this article. The writer points out that her story Cohiba in the Granta edition has nothing to do with her style of writing.  She’s much more interested in the fantastic and the unreal. The more I think about that Granta book the less I like it.

Nada de lo que conocemos de Puenzo se parece a Cohiba, una reveladora anomalía en su obra, el único de sus relatos protagonizado por alguien de su mismo sexo, edad y profesión. Puenzo suele tomar más distancia de lo que narra. Las novelas se alejan del realismo, alternan lo fantástico con lo caricaturesco y practican la misantropía de un modo más indirecto pero tal vez más contundente: sus protagonistas no son felices, no están adaptados, son transgresores que no se plantean dilemas éticos. La obra literaria de Puenzo está hecha de historias extremas y abigarradas que sugieren un destilado, un refinamiento del melodrama televisivo con sus personajes unidimensionales, tramas retorcidas y pasiones desbordantes. Puenzo hace un uso alto de un material bajo, en la corriente que en la literatura argentina se atribuye a Manuel Puig y su escritura opera como una máquina de narrar alimentada con guiones televisivos que se transforman en literatura.

Todo lo que ha hecho Lucía Puenzo tiene que ver de algún modo con el abuso infantil, con chicos a merced de la locura, la lujuria y la vileza de los adultos; pero si hay una ley en su narrativa es que los chicos abusados sobreviven y nunca se entregan del todo.

 

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New Lucía Puenzo Novel Reviewed in el Pais Shortest Review Ever

El Pais has a review, or perhaps a description is a better word for it, of Lucía Puenzo’s latest book. You can see the complete review below. What perhaps the most interesting is the statement that it is her 4th book but the first to be published in Spain, which only goes further illustrate the phenomena in Spanish language publishing where authors don’t make it out of their home country.

Narrativa. “El que pierde tumba al rey”, le dice Razzani, un exitoso empresario, a su hijo de 11 años. Es el último partido de ajedrez entre ambos y el primero que el niño puede llegar a ganar. Prófugo de la justicia y de otros poderes menos conspicuos, Razzani está llegando al final de la imposible carrera por mantener el control de sus múltiples negocios tras perder lo más apreciado en ese mundo: el anonimato. Sin embargo, el protagonista de La furia de la langosta, cuarta novela de la escritora argentina Lucía Puenzo (1976) y primera publicada en España, no es Razzani sino su hijo, Tino, un niño que madura a golpes cuando otros le revelan a él -y a todos- la vida secreta de su padre. “A Tino se le cruza por la cabeza una idea insoportable: que todas las acusaciones contra Razzani son ciertas (y otra aún peor: que aunque todo sea cierto, no dejará de quererlo)”. Más de algo excesivo hay en esa familia donde los abogados, los guardaespaldas y las criadas son tan parte de ella como los hermanos de Tino y su madre, una familia que prolifera casi tanto como las propiedades que Razzani acumula en la vasta geografía de su país. Aunque el retrato de la corrupción en la sociedad argentina es acerado e inmisericorde, el corazón de la novela está en otra parte, está en ese niño que crece y aprende de la manera más dura a leer el mundo desde la pérdida de la inocencia.

Reviewing Granta’s Young Spanish Writers:Puenzo, Barba, Schweblin, Montes, Olmos

It is probably not the best way to start this mini review by saying, now I remember why I never buy the Grant Best American/British youngster editions. I find them uneven and while there is usually something interesting in the volume, of other writers I can only ask, why? I broke down this time because it was Spanish language authors and this blog is rather dedicated to the subject. I even went through the extra step of getting the Spanish edition, not the English translation. Yet some where in reading Andres Barba or Javier Olmos I wondered if the volume was really worth the trouble. I’m only 5 authors in so I could change my mind, we’ll see.

The Andres Barba piece was particularlly disappointing. Essentially, it is the story of a prostitute who decides to have a horn installed on her forehead. She has visions of what it will be like, interspersed with scenes of  her working life. While Barba tries to give some sort of nuance to the story, describing the revenge she imagines taking, or showing the nervousness of the clients, in the end the story is simplistic, and juvenile. Abused prostitute wants to grow horn on her forehead—how Freudian. But isn’t that what college students learn in their first year when they over apply terms like phallic symbol? That would be forgivable, but the prostitute is a fairly one dimensional character. Dimensionality isn’t always a requirement for charter development, but in a piece that tries to examine the thoughts of a prostitute, it is.  Ultimately, the story is simplistic and silly.

I next read Javier Montes piece about a professional hotel reviewer, which is part of a novel excerpt. I mention the order I read these in because Montes, too, seems to be fascinated by porn. At the first the pieces starts with potential, following a hotel reviewer as he explains what his life entails. A nice touch is the narrator’s dislike of sites like Trip Advisor with all the  free reviews. He has some nice insights about the impersonality of hotel chains. Halfway through the piece, though, the narrator is given the key to a room where they are filming a porno. The narrator watches, transfixed, confused, not sure what is happening. Finally, he flees the room. While the story isn’t as insulting as Barba’s, Motes’s feels flat: narrator explains the life of hotel reviewing, then stumbles on a porn film. So? As a stand alone piece it isn’t very interesting. It has the feels just slightly juvenile. But the piece also shows the problem with the Granta Best Young editions. Since this is an excerpt I’m not sure if it gets better or worse. It certainly has potential, but I’m left to base my opinion of something less.

Fortunately, there are some stories that are more interesting. Lucia Puenzo’s Cohiba is a funny take down of the literary world. In it the narrator goes to Cuba to attend a literary conference hosted by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is depicted as a kind of out of touch mystic who shows up to give koan-like advice to writers. It is the same kind of advice that you’ll hear in a thousand different writing workshops. The advice and the criticism he gives the story writers is in many ways useless, but all the writers give him their adoring and uncritical attention. Puenzo contrasts the privileged life of the conference participants against those of the Cubans. The writers have easy access to a film festival, while Cubans have to wait, or can’t even get in. It is obvious she is taking down the hagiography that has grown up around Marquez. I don’t know what Puenzo thinks of Marquez’s writing, but Marquez the celebrity and the industry around him is an object of ridicule. At the same time, Puenzo’s vision of Cuba is a violent country where women suffer the same indignities as they do in the west. There are several ways to go with this, but for this quick review, I’ll just say this reflects badly, again, on Marquez who has been a staunch defender of Cuba. It would be too much to blame him for what happens in the story, but Puenzo’s story makes him guilty by association.

I have written about Samanta Schweblin’s stories in several posts, and I tend to like her work, even if it is a little uneven. Her story Olingiris is typical of her work, bordering on the fantastical, a type of modern fable that usually ends without a fixed resolution. In Olingiris, the lives of two women intersect at a mysterious Institute whose sole purpose is to pay women for their body hair. When a woman is plucked she lays naked on a table and three women on each side of her pluck hairs from her body with tweezers. At the end of the day all the hairs are collected and taken away. It is never explained what the hairs are for. The story of the Institute is just a frame to explore the lives of these two women who are alone in a big city, but the hair removal, typically a beauty treatment done in one’s privacy, now becomes something sinister and even more isolating. What are the women really giving up when their hair is taken. As the story closes, it is obvious that it is a traumatic experience, and like the best of her stories, takes what seems logical, the work people put into beauty, and creates an extreme vision.

Finally,there is Alberto Olmos’s Diego and Eva. Of the three male authors in this review, his story was the best, although it had a couple of moments that felt like a man channeling Candice Bushnell. The story is about consumption, both a society that is always buying, but a society that continually consumes itself, destroying what existed only yesterday, and replacing it with something that will be destroyed in the near future. The narrator is a journalist who has trouble coping with a terrorist attack in a shopping center and fixates on consumerism, vacillating between questioning it and participating in it. Over all the story was interesting, but it wasn’t the most subtle, which I would have preferred.

A criticism: once again the percentage of women authors is quite low. There are, by my count, 5 women authors, out of 22 total, which comes out to 22%. While it doesn’t make artistic sense to demand 50/50 if the works aren’t there, I’m sure there are more women writers out there (I know there are since I’ve read some of them), at least enough to get to 60/40, if not 50/50.

Finally, Imagined Icebergs has a couple of reviews from the collection and is worth a look.

Texas Tech’s The Americas Series – More books from Spanish and Portuguese

Three Percent had an excellent post about Texas Tech’s The Americas Series. Among the highlights that Three Percent noted, Lucia Puenzo’ The Fist Child is available. She is one of the Granta youngsters. You can read about her story in the Granta volume at Imagined Icebergs.

On reading the Texas Tech catalog a couple books caught my eye that aren’t in the Three Percent post. First, is Breathing in Dust, which is the story of a boy growing up as a migrant farm worker.

Tim Z. Hernandez’s land of pain and plenty, his Catela, evokes the essence of the migrant underclass experience. But more, his stories take us there, into the streets and into the groves, into the back rooms of the carnicerias and the panaderias, onto the tracks, onto the thirsty highways, in scenes that unfold with graphic, breathtaking honesty.

Next was Chango, the Biggest Badass:

Among the African pantheon of the Orichas—deities and messengers often inscrutable to the Western mind—stands Changó, god of fire, war, and thunder. In Manuel Zapata Olivella’s four-hundred-year epic of the African American experience, first published in 1983 as Changó, el gran putas, Changó both curses the muntu—the people—for betraying their own kind and challenges them to liberate not only themselves but all of humanity.

In luminous verse and prose, Zapata Olivella conveys the breadth of heroism, betrayal, and suffering common to the history of people of African descent in the Western hemisphere. Ranging from Brazil to New England but primarily turning his wrath on the Caribbean centers of the slave trade, Changó inhabits personas as diverse as Benkos Biojo, Henri Christophe, Simón Bolívar, José María Morelos, the Aleijadinho, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X. His message is one of vengeance, but also one of hope.

And finally, The Last Reader from the Mexican author David Toscana

In tiny Icamole, an almost deserted village in Mexico’s desert north, the librarian, Lucio, is also the village’s only reader. Though it has not rained for a year in Icamole, when Lucio’s son Remigio draws the body of a thirteen-year-old girl from his well, floodgates open on dark possibility. Strangely enamored of the dead girl’s beauty and fearing implication, Remigio turns desperately to his father. Persuading his son to bury the body, Lucio baptizes the girl Babette, after the heroine of a favorite novel. Is Lucio the keeper of too many stories? As police begin to investigate, has he lost his footing? Or do revelation and resolution lie with other characters and plots from his library? Toscana displays brilliant mastery of the novel—in all its elements—as Lucio keeps every last reader guessing.

Granta’s Best Young Spanish Writers at Three Percent

The ever interesting blog Three Percent from Open Letter Books is publishing bios of all 22 of the writers featured in Granta’s Best young writers in Spanish. So far they have put up bios of Andres Barba and a short story in English, Andres Neuman, Carlos Labbe, Federico Falco, and Santiago Roncagliolo amongst others. Definitely worth following if you are interested.

I’ve always had a thing for Spanish literature. Not sure exactly why or how this started, although I do remember struggling my way through Cortazar’s “A Continuity of Parks,” thinking holy s— this can’t actually be what’s happening, then reading the English version, finding myself even more blown away and proceeding to devour his entire oeuvre over the course of the ensuing year. (The next tattoo I get will likely be a reference to either Hopscotch or 62: A Model Kit.)

There’s something special about the great Spanish-language works . . . They can be as philosophically complicated as the French (see Juan Jose Saer’s Nouveau Roman influenced novels), while still remaining very grounded, emotional (see all of Manuel Puig), and others represent the epitome of wordplay and linguistic gamesmanship (see Cabrera Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers).

Not trying to say that Spanish-language literature is better than that of other languages—I’m just trying to explain why I’m so drawn to it, why we published Latin American authors make up such a large portion of Open Letter’s list (Macedonio Fernandez, Juan Jose Saer, Alejandro Zambra, Sergio Chejfec, not to mention the Catalan writers, which, though vastly different in language, have a sort of kinship with their fellow Spanish writers). And why I read so many Spanish works in my “free time,” why I love Buenos Aires, the tango, etc. . . .

Regardless, when I found out that Granta was releasing a special issue of the “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists,” I was psyched. (This really hits at the crux of my obsessions: Spanish literature and lists.) I tried to tease names from the forthcoming list out of the wonderful Saskia Vogel and the multi-talented John Freeman, but neither would give away any secrets. So when the list was finally announced, I was doubly pleased to see that six of the authors on there either already are published by Open Letter or will be in the near future.

Granta en español Announces Its Best Young Novelists in Spanish

Grant en español has announced their take on the best young novelists in Spanish. You can see a complete list plus links to interviews and other information at El Pais’s blog, Papeles Perdidos. Here is the list of names:

Andrés Barba (España), Oliverio Coelho (Argentina), Federico Falco (Argentina), Pablo Gutiérrez (España), Rodrigo Hasbun (Bolivia), Sonia Hernández (España), Carlos Labbé (Chile), Javier Montes (España), Elvira Navarro (España), Matías Néspolo (Argentina), Andrés Neuman (Argentina), Alberto Olmos (España) Pola Oloixarac (Argentina), Antonio Ortuño (México), Patricio Pron (Argentina), Lucía Puenzo (Argentina), Andrés Ressia Colino (Uruguay), Santiago Roncagliolo (Perú), Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), Andrés Felipe Solano (Colombia), Carlos Yushimito del Valle (Perú) y Alejandro Zambra (Chile).

I have heard of several of these writers and some are in English. I know I have read a story by Samanta Schweblin and I think I liked it. She had something in the Latin American issue of Zoetrope. I haven’t read Andres Nueman yet, and I’m a little disappointed I didn’t buy one of his books when I was in Barcelona; he was on my list. Alejandro Zambra has been translated into English. You can read both Bonsai and the Private Lives of Trees. Santiago Roncagliolo has one book in English and as I noted earlier this week he will be on El Publico Lee. Jorge Volpi has noted his writings as a way forward with the political novel. I don’t know about the rest of the authors, but I guess that will give me an excuse to read the issue.

Update:

Read about some of them in English.