Interview With Patricio Pron At Words Without Borders – If you like Madrid Don’t Read It

Words Without Borders has a very funny and caustic interview with Patricio Pron a man who despises Madrid. One might think he was from a different province by the sound of his voice. A must read if you a Madrid fan boy.

Can you describe the mood of Madrid as you feel/see it?

Madrid is a singularly ugly city. Its most representative buildings are grotesque, its river is negligible and rotten, its parks are dusty and full of petty criminals and its squares are tiny and uncomfortable. In addition, the city is terribly cold in winter and unbearably hot in summer, and its people are the most ignorant and stupid I’ve met in my life (a good example of this, is their belief that speaking in English consists of shouting and making gestures, as any unfortunate person knows if he or she has ever had the unpleasant experience of coming to Madrid without speaking Spanish). It is not unusual for discussions in bars to escalate into exchanges of insults and that women and children are verbally abused by screaming men and alcoholics. In fact, only the dogs seem to have a good time in this city, as they can shit wherever they want (mostly in front of my house) and are very spoiled by their masters. None of these reasons explain why I still live here, though: sometimes I wonder, but the answer is so difficult to find as it is difficult to leave or forget this city once you’ve had the opportunity to live in it, which is great I think.

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

Shortly after arriving in Madrid from Germany, where I was studying, a young local writer said to me: “Don’t feel embarrassed by your difficulties trying to be like us. The fact is, you can never be like us because unfortunately, you have a degree.”

Inteview and Overview of Patricio Pron’s New Book of Short Stories

El Pais has a review/interview with Patricio Pron about his new collection of short stories. It sounds interesting:

Sea como fuere, la escasa creatividad de sus colegas es también el tema central de Un jodido día perfecto sobre la tierra, uno de los cuentos del libro. En ello, Pron relata la insoportable y autobiográfica experiencia de ser jurado de un concurso literario al que llegan solo textos casi idénticos: “Me juré que jamás volvería a hacerlo. En línea general falta originalidad. Es el resultado de un establecimiento de condiciones genéricas, literarias y narrativas que los autores normalmente no cuestionan”.

Portada de ‘La vida interior de las plantas de interior’.

El mercado, según Pron, también juega contra la innovación: “Muchos autores en este momento están escribiendo el mismo libro. Se debe en parte al negocio editorial pero también al deseo de ciertos escritores de producir algo que tenga éxito”. ¿Qué escritores? Todo lo que se obtiene es un “es bastante visible” y el ejemplo de “las novelas de la crisis”.

Con su personalísimo estilo, Pron también está teniendo mucho éxito. A sus 36 años ya cuenta con premios, aplausos de críticos y colegas y un CV literario donde lucen libros como El comienzo de la primavera y El mundo sin las personas que lo afean y lo arruinan. De hecho, a veces hasta se sorprende de sus resultados. “Estuve en México de promoción y tenía ocho entrevistas al día durante cinco días. Jamás pensé que había tantos medios allí y que tuvieran interés en lo que escribo. Creo que la charla número 40 era intercambiable con la 39 y la 38…”, recuerda Pron.

Christmas Stories from Letras Libres – Featuring Najat El Hachmi, Patricio Pron and others

Letras Libres has a collection of stories about Christmas. A few of the authors I am familiar with such as Patricio Pron and Najat El Hachmi. I liked the Najat El Hachmi (I haven’t finished the rest). It was about a young Muslim girl experiencing her first Christmas in Spain.

Navidad entre escépticos
Por Guadalupe Nettel

Plantas aéreas
Por Pilar Adón

Algo de nosotros no quiere ser salvado
Por Patricio Pron

Navidades musulmanas
Por Najat El Hachmi

Ventanas
Por Emiliano Monge

Navidades en rojo
Por Yoani Sánchez

Intercambios
Por Juan Pablo Villalobos

Najat El Hachmi‘s story.

Sabiendo la respuesta, consulté con el imán. ¿Podemos celebrar la Navidad? No, por supuesto que no, eso es haram. A menos que te conviertas, claro. ¿Pero puedo cantar los villancicos en la clase de música? Tampoco, fíjate en lo que dicen las letras, que ha nacido Jesús hijo de una virgen y de Dios. Nuestro Isa no era más que otro profeta de la larga lista de profetas que el Misericordioso nos mandó para conocer sus deseos. Nadie puede ser hijo de Dios porque Dios no es humano, no tiene hijos. Pero hay villancicos que no hablan de Jesús. ¿Puedo por lo menos unirme al resto de la clase cuando la canción no tenga nada que ver con eso? ¿Como por ejemplo la parte del fum, fum, fum? ¿O la canción del trineo? Esa no habla para nada de ninguna virgen. No, niña, todo eso forma parte de “su” celebración. Nosotros no formamos parte de eso y no vamos a formar nunca. A mí por un lado me dio rabia que entre tantos marroquíes que casi no entendían ni catalán ni castellano ese precisamente tuviera conocimientos tan detallados sobre el tema, y por otro empezó a parecerme algo absurdo que por sutilezas tan insignificantes como si Jesús era hijo o no de Dios yo tuviera que cantar los villancicos por dentro. Porque una cosa sí era cierta: no podía evitarlo, por muy culpable que me sintiera, por horrible que me pareciera, escuchar las primeras notas de cualquier estrofa navideña era empezar a entonarla sin más. La música en general me provocaba un placer íntimo y alegre, pero sobre todo en los villancicos encontraba una belleza sin igual. Algunos me parecían tristes, otros alegres, pero todos pegadizos. Mi mortificación llegó al punto máximo cuando, en clase de música, para no llamar la atención y al mismo tiempo no dejar de mantener mis principios, movía los labios pero sin voz, disimulando entre el resto de niños. Y cuanto más contenía la voz, más ganas tenía de alzarla por encima de todas las demás, expandir el pecho y dejar que saliera con toda la fuerza. Pero nunca pasó.

Granta Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists – A Review (Part II)

I learned something in reading this collection: with certain exceptions, I find novel excerpts irritating. Either they are too short to say anything, or just when they get going they stop. I also relearned that my antipathy for best of youth collections seldom live up to the word best. That is unavoidable, of course, with any collection, but with youth comes promise and it is the let down that makes it worse. That said, of the works remaining works that I had left to read (see my review for the other authors), and those that I did not skip because they were novel excerpts and I’d rather just read the novel (this is especially the case with Zambra, Roncagaliolo, Oloixarac, and Navarro), I found some of these works readable, and occasionally intriguing, but on the whole uneven.

The Andrés Neuman short stories showed some real inventiveness and suggest he has quite a range as a short story writer. I should say, he was someone, who before I had read the stories, I was interested in reading. His work seems to have an expansiveness to its approaches and breaks out of of certain story telling traps. I did find, however, that the story about the nun was perhaps a bit cliched. Still his portrait of a nun who in having an affair with a womanizer, turns his world into a hell without her. It has that kind of religious story flipped that still leads to the same result. Instead of the man going to hell just by his acts, or realizing it through a sermon, the religious figure leads the man into hell. It has a touch of that Issac Babel’s story in the Red Calvary where Jesus sleeps with a woman on her wedding night, because if her wedding is not consummated, she will be killed.

Frederico Falco’s story about a girl who has a summer crush on a Mormon doing missionary work was perhaps the funniest story of the collection. In it Falco creates a precocious teenager who announces she is an atheist to her grandmother, who of course finds the thought horrifying. Shortly after two Mormon missionaries come to the door and she is taken with one. She invites them in for the first of many visits to talk over the Mormon faith. She thinks if she keeps bringing them along, fainting interest in the religion, she’ll have more time with the cute one. But every time she tries something she finds that the boys are too committed to the faith and that even simple gestures of friendship are filtered through the mission. It isn’t a tragic end, because she doesn’t care. She’s just using them, and the boys are so committed that they just move on to the next mission. It is a warm and yet distant story, that doesn’t so much as sympathize with the girl who is looking for a little fun, but toy with the irreconcilability of two such opposing points of view.

Sonia Hernández, much like Samanta Schwiblin and to some extent like Andres Neuman, belongs to the tradition of the fantastic or perhaps surreal that seems to surface often in Spanish language short stories. Her piece about a mysterious wall with a newly installed door, is probably the most allegorical of anything in the collection. At first it isn’t clear why the organization installed the door, or even why there is a wall. The only thing you know is that people complained about the noises from the other side. Is this a social comment about unwanted immigrants? But then the story takes a turn as the narrator says a friend of hers has left and this has caused the leadership of the building to get upset. The question becomes, is this some sort of prison and those on the other side are free? Hernandez, though, has more complications as the residents of the building are mute. They speak but no one can hear them. The missing friend, who is dead, has returned and is begging the narrator to go with her and keeps talking with her but is inaudible. Is this perhaps after all, some sort of purgatory, or just a closed society where the laws of existence are so defined you cannot act freely? Of course, each of those readings leads to tyranny against the individual. Either way, the story ends ill at ease, leaving little hope for the inhabitants of the building: …ese es el castigo a su soberbia (this is the punishment for her pride).

Structurally speaking, Rodrigo Hasbun’s short story that constructs a story through constant revisions of itself had potential. But like many of the works in the volume it tended to be interested too much in writing. The same thing happened with Patricio Pron’s short story which was obviously written for the collection and suffered for its cleaver nods to Granta. I’m certainly not above reading about writing or meta fiction (see my countless posts on Hipolito G. Navarro), but the pieces in hear often seemed to be afflicted with the young writers syndrome, where the only thing the writer knows is writing so they write about writing. I once took a class where we had to write a novella in one quarter. We all accomplished the task, but the majority of the works were about either writers or some other type of artist. I wrote about a guitarist, since I also play guitar. And reading these pieces reminded me about that class which as far as I know didn’t produce any great works.

Those inconsistencies in the works are why the collection was quite uneven. Having read it, I would like to ask the editor how she picked these authors. Since, really, the collection is a reflection of the editor as much as anything. The focus on youth I think is a little misplaced sometimes. The Guadalajara book fair’s focus on unknown writers seems a little more productive.

Interview with Patricio Pron in El Pais – Plus Novel Excerpt

Patricio Pron, one of the Granta youngsters, was interviewed in El Pais about his latest novel El espíritu de mis padres sigue subiendo en la lluvia. It is the story of his parents activism during the last thirty years, an activism that of course takes place during the dictatorship. Pron notes that his interest in writing the book “came from hearing the stories of activism at home and his inability to understand them”. The book is not structured as a traditional novel because he doesn’t want to give the impression that the narrator knows everything or that there are no doubts. You can read an excerpt here (pdf). El Pais also has a short and favorable review here.

“Mi interés por las últimas décadas de Argentina viene de las historias que escuchaba en casa sobre el pasado del activismo político de mis padres y de mi propia incapacidad para comprender ese proceso, la voluntad de sacrificio y las decisiones que les habían llevado a comprometerse en hechos trágicos de la historia argentina… Mi interés no era literario en el sentido de que no tenía como objetivo escribir una novela…, pero… fue el descubrir en un momento que de la misma forma en que yo procuraba averiguar quiénes habían sido mis padres, mi padre había estado buscando a una persona… y, a su vez, en esa búsqueda, él buscaba otro desaparecido anterior y ambos eran hermanos… Y fue esa doble simetría que se establecía entre nosotros la que me llevó a pensar en escribir sobre esos años…

Aunque tengo poco interés o desconfío del testimonio. Cosa que por otra parte concierne a mis padres y no a mí… Procuré escapar de esto… incluso darle un carácter ficcional pero desistí porque había algo… espúreo en el uso de esos recuerdos para producir ficción comercial. Y lo dejé en nombre de una cierta honestidad con el lector…”.

“Es una decisión ética de procurar contar algo novedoso. Pensaba, y pienso, que escribir esta historia de jóvenes revolucionarios en Argentina tenía que asumir una forma que procurase ser revolucionaria… Entre otras cosas porque… las convenciones literarias no son mucho más que la extrapolación al ámbito de la literatura de las convenciones que presiden la vida social y nuestra relación. Por lo tanto, hubiese sido desleal con la memoria de mis padres escribir su historia de una forma convencional… Escribí en virtud de que no sabía cómo hacerlo, pero se fue revelando con la propia escritura”.

“La forma que asumió el libro respondía a ciertas ideas mías del fragmentarismo y reflexiones sobre los géneros; pero también al hecho de que esta historia es tan dolorosa para mí como para que no pudiese escribir largas extensiones… También hay una cuestión vinculada con el hecho de que las narrativas unitarias producen, a menudo, la impresión de que el narrador carece de dudas o está en posesión de una verdad absoluta. Si bien esa es una ficción con la cual los escritores jugamos quería dejarla de lado para que fuesen las dudas… las contradicciones y… las piezas ausentes de este puzle las que emergiesen en la lectura…”.

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.