Ebooks as a Bridge to Latin America at Publishing Perspectives

Lucas Lyndes the editor of Ox and Pigeon press has an article in Publishing Perspectives about how ebooks can make it easier for Spanish speakers as well as English speakers to have access to works from less well know authors. The way publishing is set up in Latin America is a little strange and he does have a point and ebooks do provide a new way to access authors who have been isolated by sales agreements. While I did enjoy the two books from Ox and Pidgeon I read as ebooks, I still would have preferred physical copies (see my reviews here and here).

First, it might be useful to provide some idea of what the Latin American book market is like. When I first moved to Peru eight years ago (well before my small publishing house Ox and Pigeon was even a synapse in my brain), it was immediately obvious to me that where books were concerned, the region had an abundance of interesting writers but at least one glaring problem: distribution. If you were looking for a certain book, you had to know who published it, and after that, find out which bookstore (often only one, in the case of Lima at that time) imported that publisher’s books. If you were lucky, they had ordered more than one copy and might have it in stock. Clearly, this is not the sort of task casual readers are up for.

But things were not always this way. Legendary publishing houses such as Sudamericana and Emecé in Argentina or Joaquín Mortiz and ERA in Mexico spent decades building relationships and distribution networks with booksellers throughout Latin America. Starting in the 1980s, though, many of these companies either went out of business or were bought up by international conglomerates who—despite their worldwide presence and the undreamt-of resources at their disposal, as well as the argument that their multinational structure would actually help improve things—proceeded to dismantle these distribution networks and severely localize the markets in each country.

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.


The Portable Museum Vol 1 featuring Ortuño, Morábito, Bisama, Vila-Matas – A Review

The Portable Museum Vol 1
Featuring Antonio Ortuño, Fabio Morábito, Alvaro Bisama, Enrique Vila-Matas
Ox and Pigeon, 2013

Ox and Pigeon is a small press dedicated to publishing international literature in translation. So far they have brought out two e-books with short stories from the Spanish. In this volume they have short stories from Antonio Ortuño, Fabio Morábito, Alvaro Bisama, and Enrique Vila-Matas. Vila-Matas is the most famous on the list with several books already translated into English. I have read one of Fabio Morábito’s books (review here) and enjoyed it and was looking forward to reading his story. From all the criticism I’ve read his style is always heralded as very clean and pure. Antonio Ortuño and Alvaro Bisama I was unfamiliar with. The stories are varied, from the fantastical to the more meta, all revolving around the theme of relationships.

From the start the authors show a willingness to expand the idea of a relationship. In The Japanese Garden, Antonio Ortuño writes of a man whose father hires him a prostitute when he is 9 years old. From there his life is consumed by the thought of the prostitute and into adulthood. The story, though, is not a warning about the dangers of such an early encounter, but a study in eccentric longing. While one might suggest his longing is damaged goods, there is a humor to the story that suggests that while he is wasting his time and money pursuing her, the kind of attachment he has is just as normal as a man might have for a long lost love that was not a prostitute.

Fabio Morábito’s story The Mothers (download the pdf) is a fantastical piece that depicts “the mothers” as a creatures who take to the trees at the beginning of June and become a type of plague, threatening the inhabitants of the town. They spend their time capturing men and doing as they wish for the month. When the mothers have spent their energies laying fruit in the trees they return to their homes where their families, exhausted, their work done. It is a fascinating renvisioning of procreation that shows the dynamics that underlie those of reality. The mothers are at once needed, both in the home and for the creation of the fruits, but also a bother that one must put up with. It is dark cometary and Morábito’s story is the strangest of the four.

Alvaro Bisama’s Nazi Girl is the most transgressive of the bunch. Narrated by a Chilean woman who was raised by parents who were Hitler fanatics, and who were also Catholic supporters of Pinochet. Bisama creates a world in which the martial aesthetics of Nazi Germany, in part personified by the eroticism that can be found in the likes of Leni Riefenstahl, become an intoxicating mix of sex and domination. It is a disturbing image and at first look the transgression looks like glorification, but Bisama is criticizing the glorification of dictatorships and the objectification of power that comes with it. It is a delicate balance to try and avoid glorying Hitler. I think Bisama has succeed.

Finally, Enrique Vila-Matas’ story about a man caught in a love triangle is interesting not so much for the triangle, but the way the story is told. All through the story the narrator has to battle with her grandmother over the veracity of her story. It is an interesting approach to story telling that I think is, from what I’ve read, an window into his style in general.

All the stories in the collection very good and highlight interesting work. Of the authors in the collection, I’m most interested to see what some of Bisama’s other work is like.

FTC Notice: The publisher gave me the book. I thank them for that.