Doña Perfecta by Benito Pérez Galdós – A Review

20190907_164851For a country whose most famous literary work is a novel, Doña Perfecta has the appearance of an early novel, a novel whose shifts in style and the occasional lacuna in the plot, suggest a nascent form, one that hasn’t quite come into shape. This, of course, is an error.  Benito Pérez Galdós’ 1877 novel is a brilliant work whose structure, style, and themes all seem quite modern, and underscore the struggle between the modern, industrial world of the cities and the conservative, inflexible one of the rural provinces. It is a story, though written nearly 25 years before the start of the twentieth century, presages the internecine battles of the next hundred years.

The titular Doña Perfecta is the matriarch of an upper class family that comes from a rural provincial capital. It is an isolated place. The journey from the modern train station takes several hours by horse back through land that rife with bandits. It is ringed with with shanties and the town has been in decline for some time. None of this stops Doña Perfecta and her circle of friends, which includes a high church official, from looking suspiciously at anything that comes from the Capital, Madrid. When her nephew Pepe comes to town to marry her daughter and claim his ancestral lands, the conflict between these two worlds collide.

Galdós does not make it clear what Pepe exactly does to set off the ire of Perfecta and her friends. He lets the inhabitants relate what they’ve heard, leaving the reader in a game of telephone where what one hears about the young man might be upsetting, but is it true? The accusations are, naturally, all of a religious nature, but essentially are reducible to one idea: he has used his scientific thinking to disrespect the traditions of the city. Pepe, a good engineer more interested in building a physical future, one built on reason, cannot see what harm it is to walk through a church and look at the art. In the age of over tourism, it is hard to take this as a great crime, but it does show an inflexibility, an unwillingness to even listen to Pepe defend himself. Pepe doesn’t do that very well for he speaks in modern terms, ones that they are unable to understand.

Galdós’ characterizations are one of the true strong points of the novel. While he does employ a narrator that gives local color, or pushes the plot along with details from larger events, particularly the revolts of the 1870’s, it is in exploration of the voices of the narrow minded inhabitants of the province that the novel comes alive. Doña Perfecta is a particularly exasperating one, but one of those dark characters who sparkle in fiction. Her ultimate fate, dark and just as it is, is also tragic, and given her moral rectitude one she is completely unable to see.

Ultimately, Doña Perfecta reveals a Spain unable to shake itself of a lethargy and embrace the modern world. It is a failing with tragic consequences for both the characters of the novel, and the country as a whole.

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.”

El último libro de Sergi Pámies (Sergi Pámies’ Last Book) by Sergi Pámies – A Review

El último libro de Sergi Pámies (Sergi Pámies’ Last Book)
Version del autor
Sergi Pámies
Anagrama, 2000, pg 139

Sergi Pámies is a Catalan short story writer, novelist and journalist whose work has been widely translated in Europe but has yet to have a collection come out in English yet. He’s probably as well known in Spain and Cataluña for his essays in La Vanguardia, a Spanish language daily in Barcelona. El último libro de Sergi Pámies is the Spanish translation of L’últim llibre de Sergi Pámies, originally written in Catalan and apparently translated by the author. (Typically I don’t read translations into Spanish, but this is the only way to get access to his books, which I’ve been interested in reading every since I saw an interview with him in 2010.)

Pámies work does have some similarities to the Catalan author Quim Monzo in that there is a humor, always a little dark, and an interest in parable like stories that push the characters to desperate paradoxes. While Pámies tends towards the fantastical, the collection opens with the wrenching El precio. One breakfast a son endures his father’s assault of tired and over used sayings all of which culminates in the phrase, everyone has his price. Later when the son calls his father to check on how he is, the son hears the father talking to his wife who has died years before. The son realizes as he is surrounded by the people passing through the train station living seemingly normal lives, that his price is falling and that his next step, that of playing along with his father, diminishes his price. It is an astute story, whose brevity captures the changing roles of father and son: from the adversarial when the son was young and striking out on his own and the father his own powerful figure; to that of the caretaker relationship that requires him to become something different, something that goes against his nature and diminishes his self worth.

La máquina de hacer cosquillas also has the same touch of melancholy loss as a father returns to the same book store he has frequented with his young daughter. He hopes to get in and buy something quickly without the old clerk noticing him. He fails and she sees him. Her greeting is warm, and her gift of the sweet for the girl would normally be accepted with happily, but it only brings back the memories of a tragedy and the quick journey to the little book shop is anything but quick.

In a funnier vein is El océano Pacifico which makes up half the book. It follows “the man” who has bought a new Audi A6 and discovers that every time he plays a CD in it the musician dies shortly after. First there is Barbara, then Stephan Grapelli, and finally Sonny Bono. He flees to Paris for the Christmas break to avoid the celebrations at home, noting

Una corona de muérdago convierte la puerta en una especie de atud en posición vertical

A crown of mistletoe made the door into a kind of vertical coffin.

Paris is not a particularly festive city for him. It is a gray city of mourning and as he walks the streets and endures the rain Pámies turns Paris into one of those dark places of noir or French new wave where only isolation and darkness exist. Taking the metro he sees a street musician playing a clarinet. She is beautiful and he falls in love with her enough that he buys her CD. At his hotel he opens the case with trepidation, afraid his curse will kill her, but it’s empty. He searches through every metro station looking for her and when he finds her, they make a bargain. If she can survive 12 hours after playing her CD, he will give her 10,000 franks. She takes the offer and the man and the clarinetist play a game of waiting, she not trusting him, he limiting his desires for a woman he desperately wants but cannot have and is afraid he will kill. Ultimately, when he is returning home he takes pride in his ability to fall out of love. It was something, like Paris, that was a passing infatuation. What does it say though, that everything he loves dies (although the fate of the clarinetist is left open). Instead we are left with the death of Carl Perkins. It is a strange tale whose insights about Paris are colored with a loneliness and quiet desperation that is chilling and comedic.

Perhaps in his most fantastical and paradoxical, a man who can see into the near future sees himself in a hospital and has no idea how sick he is or what will happen. Even though he has the power to see into the future, he is powerless to see beyond the room. What he finds himself wanting to know is what will he know when he is actually in that moment in the hospital. Even for those with the power to see the future, the future is not enough. He needs to be in the future to see the future. It is his most Borgesian story whose brief pages belie a paradox.

Sergi Pámies’ work is an excellent mix of the satirical, fantastical, and humorous, bridging social satire, to political cometary, to family stories of loss. An astute observer, especially in his descriptions of Paris, his stories are filled with observations on modern life. For those interested in Catalan literature, perhaps one day he will be translated.

Carmen Martín Gaite’s American Success

El Paishad an article on the success of Carmen Martín Gaite in the academic world. For an author without translations and who died in 2000, she has a surprisingly large number of followers. She is probably the best known of the generation of the 50s, partly because she outlived many, but also because her work still resonates.

¡Miranfú! Carmen Martín Gaite dijo la palabra mágica de su Caperucita en Manhattan, se abrió la alcantarilla y una corriente gustosa de aire tibio la ascendió hasta la corona de la estatua de la Libertad. Allí sigue, reinando como si no hubiera muerto. En Estados Unidos, donde aman a los reyes con vehemencia republicana, la han entronizado como el gran clásico de la literatura española contemporánea. El único autor de España presente en 56 universidades al norte del Río Grande.

Ni Benet, encumbrado entre la élite como el más singular de su generación y amadrinado por la escritora —como evidencia la correspondencia entre ambos editada recientemente por el profesor José Teruel—, ni Sánchez Ferlosio, su exmarido, han permanecido indemnes al paso del tiempo. “Ella es imprescindible. El cuarto de atrás es una novela canónica. Nadie puede doctorarse en Estados Unidos sin haberla leído, sin embargo ya casi nadie enseña a Benet ni El Jarama”, explica la catedrática de la Universidad de Delaware Joan L. Brown.

Y Brown no le dice por admiración —escribió en los setenta la primera tesis sobre Carmiña de su país— ni nostalgia —lo anterior, desde 1974, las convirtió en grandes amigas—. Esta catedrática ha dedicado dos estudios (1998 y 2008) a fijar el canon académico de la literatura española a partir de la investigación del programa de 56 universidades. Después de un complicado proceso de recopilación de datos, descubrió con placer el lugar que ocupaba su amiga escritora. Ni entre visillos, ni envuelta en nubosidad variable, Carmen Martín Gaite (Salamanca, 1925-Madrid, 2000) presidía el frontispicio, a la cabeza de los programas de estudio.

8 Untranslated Spanish Authors at Words Without Borders

Words Without Borders has a great edition this month featuring 8 untranslated Spanish authors. This is an exciting edition because it features one of my favorites, Cristina Fernández Cubas. It has several I don’t know well, but Juan Eduardo Zúñiga is someone I’ve been looking forward to for some time and will be reading this year. I think they missed a few which you can read about here.
This month we present poetry and prose by twelve Spanish masters whose dazzling work has been unavailable to the English-language world. Exploring scenes ranging from the devastating Madrid subway bombing to the idyllic coastline of Greece, in rhapsodic poetry and anguished prose, these writers provide new insight into Spanish literature today. Read Fernando Aramburu, Cristina Fernández Cubas, Miquel de Palol, Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Antonio Gamoneda, Pere Gimferrer, Berta Vias Mahou, César Antonio Molina, Juan Antonio Masoliver Ródenas, Olvido Garcia Valdés, Pedro Zarraluki, and Juan Eduardo Zúñiga, and discover the breadth and depth of contemporary Spanish writing. This issue is part of the SPAIN arts & culture program and was made possible thanks to a charitable contribution from the Spain-USA Foundation. We thank the Foundation for its generous support, and our guest editors, Javier Aparicio, Aurelio Major, and Mercedes Monmany, for their excellent work in selecting the authors and pieces presented here.

Elsewhere, we present writing from Syria, as Zakariya Tamer tells tales of djinns and talking walls, Abdelkader al-Hosni reflects on friendship, Golan Haji considers magic and loss, and Lukman Derky mourns a history of war.

Antonio Muñoz Molina Wins the Jerusalem Prize

The Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina has won the Jerusalem Prize:. According to El Pais:

El jurado ha seleccionado a Muñoz Molina “porque es un autor excelente, pero también porque su obra expresa la libertad del individuo”, explica Joel Makov, director del festival literario en conversación telefónica. Makov detalla que el autor de Sefarad o El jinete polaco ha confirmado que viajará a Jerusalén para recibir el premio a principios de febrero.

El jurado ha considerado que los libros de Muñoz Molina reflejan además “los grandes cambios que han tenido lugar en España durante su transición de la dictadura a la democracia y han expuesto la traumática memoria colectiva”. Los jueces destacaron también al dar a conocer su elección “la simpatía que Molina expresa por los exiliados y los que sufren. Aquellos víctimas de las revoluciones históricas”. “Es uno de los autores más importantes de nuestro tiempo”, añadieron.

Javier Cercas: On His Novel and the Nationalism of Spanish Language Fiction

Revista Ñ has an interview with Javier Cercas about his new novel Las leyes de la frontera, which returns to his themes of how a history is constructed. But as a provocateur he also notes that the literature of the Spanish world is isolated between countries. Readers in one country don’t read works from another and vica versa. But he lays his heaviest criticism on Spain, noting that partly for historical reasons and partly for a kind of navel gazing and narcissism of the newly rich. (via Moleskine)

–¿Por qué casi siempre los escritores españoles están aislados de sus pares latinoamericanos?

–Mi impresión es que ése es un tema general de la literatura en español: hay una atomización. Es decir, los escritores y los lectores argentinos leen poca literatura española; los españoles, poca literatura argentina y los mexicanos, poca peruana; por ejemplo. Hay una especie de impermeabilización, hay muy pocos escritores que traspasan esas fronteras, que no son fronteras. Es un drama. Por otra parte, la literatura española es menos cosmopolita que muchas literaturas latinoamericanas. La literatura española, con excepciones, se ha encerrado, primero por causas históricas, pero también por una especie de ombliguismo, narcisismo estúpido y también por esta cosa que hemos tenido de nuevos ricos los últimos 30 años. El nacionalismo es la peste, pero en literatura es el horror. Pertenecemos a una tradición muy amplia, aunque nuestra tradición literaria sea muy inferior a las grandes tradiciones –la del inglés, el francés, el alemán– ahora es más potente quizás que muchas, hay que beneficiarse de eso.

You can also see an interview with him at Canal-L


Javier Cercas New Book Reviewed at El Pais

El Pais has a review of Javier Cercas’ newest book, Las leyes de la frontera. It is another work of historical fiction where he tries to understand what a historical person was like. It sounds more fictive than the last book, Anatomy of an Instant. He intended to write a book about EL Zarco, a criminal figure from the 60s, revealing all the lies that have been said about him, but it turned into something larger and more encompassing of the criminal world that Francoism fostered.

Casi todas las novelas tratan de cómo su autor se encontró con ellas y cómo luego fue contándoselas a sí mismo, antes de hacerlo a los demás. Muchos relatos no hacen explícitas estas dos frases del proceso pero, desde el Quijote, bastantes otros detallan esos preliminares. No creo que tal cosa resuelva la identidad escurridiza de lo que se ha dado en llamar autoficción, ni tampoco que agote la forma de narrar de Javier Cercas, tan cercana a este marbete que parece hecho a su medida. El autor explícito de Las leyes de la frontera es sólo un interrogador sin nombre que surge para provocar y enhebrar las confesiones de un abogado penalista de éxito, un director de prisión y un policía, ambos dos al borde del retiro. El motivo: saber de la vida y la leyenda de Antonio Gamallo, alias El Zarco, al que todos ellos conocieron. La sustancia moral y la estrategia literaria que todo esto comporta lo aclara el entrevistador cuando dice al director de la cárcel: “Al principio, la idea era esa, sí: escribir un libro sobre El Zarco donde se denunciasen todas las mentiras que se han contado sobre él y se contase la verdad o un trozo de la verdad. Pero uno no escribe los libros que quiere, sino los que puede o los que encuentra y el libro que yo he encontrado es ese y no es ese […]. Lo sabré cuando termine de escribirlo”.

Javier Cercas’ Latest Novel

El Pais has an advance of Javier Cercas’ newest novel, titled Las leyes de la frontera (The Laws of the Border). It is about growing up in Franco’s Spain during the 60’s while a middle class began to grow but there was still great inequality. You can read the first chapter at El Pais also.

“El origen remoto de Las leyes de la frontera es cuando yo tengo 10 o 12 años y vivo en unos bloques de pisos de clase media recién levantados en el extrarradio de la ciudad, justo al lado del río. Una tarde, el utillero del equipo de balónmano del barrio nos lleva al otro lado del río y desde ahí veo otro mundo. Hay unos barracones donde se vivian miles de personas en una miseria espeluznante. Esa imagen se me queda clavada en la retina. Vi que a unos 150 metros de donde yo vivía había un mundo que no se parecía en nada al mío. Ese es el origen del libro: qué pasaba ahí, en algo tan cerca y tan lejos de mi casa al mismo tiempo”.

El menor espectáculo del mundo (The Smallest Show on Earth) by Félix J. Palma – A Review

El menor espectáculo del mundo (The Smallest Show on Earth)
Félix J. Palma
Páginas de Espuma, 2010, pg 203

Félix J. PalmaThe Spanish novelist and short story writer Félix J. Palma is probably best known as a thriller/sci-fi/fantastical/historical fiction writer who’s The Map of Time spent some time on the NY Times best seller list. I’m not sure if how well any of those categories work in describing him, but his 2010 collection of short stories El menor espectáculo del mundo (The Smallest Show on Earth) is in a different vain, focusing on the little details of life, the smallest show on earth. However, that smallest show tag is a little misleading because several of the stories are adventures that are just confined to a small space. Still, Palma is attentive to the disappointments and unsaid despair that surround his characters and command of language, expressed in elegant sentences and solid images mark him as a skilled writer.

His skills as a writer are apparent from the opening story, El país de lasMuñecas (The Country of Dolls):

A aquellas horas de la noche, el parque infantil parecía un cementerio donde yacía enterrada la infancia.

At that time of the night, the playground looked like a cemetery where childhood had been buried.

It is an arresting image that begins a story of a girl who looses her doll and her father, like Kafka, writes the daughter a letter each day as if he were the doll. His reinvention of the doll story parallels the story of his failing marriage and the fable for the girl becomes not only the dream that will never be realized for the child, but it is an illusion the father would like to have also. But the doll story is just a story and the narrator can only wish for what he cannot have. It is a typical strategy for Palma to show the illusion of these little shows and then leave the characters aware that those illusions are not real. While The Country of Dolls blends his power of language and his appreciation for literary culture, it also ends disappointingly as the narrator, in crime fiction fashion, destroys the destroyer of his illusions and kills his wife.

Palma also has a good sense of humor which he shows quite well in Margabarismos. The narrator is a looser who has taken to spending his time in  La Verónica a dive bar near his home that his wife will never search for him in. One day, he sees a note on the bathroom wall that says he will be hit by a car. He doesn’t believe it, but as he leaves the bar a car hits him. He wakes to see his wife waiting for him and he realizes they have grown apart and he would like her back. Once he gets out of the hospital he returns to the bar’s bathroom to look for the message. It has changed, though, and the writer is his late uncle who has the power to see the future six months of the narrator. They hatch a plan to win his wife back and each step displays a humor based on the clumsy desperation of a man who wants his wife back and has to depend on an unreliable ghost. Without the humor–the idea of finding messages in the bathroom–the story would be flat. Again, Palma takes the desperation of the lonely man and turns a comic ghost story into a moment to explore relationships.

He develops that same theme in Una palabra tuya a story that starts with the narrator’s wife’s last words before leaving the house: can you fix the lamp. When he goes into the closet he gets trapped and through a series of events his daughter ends up being the captive of the desperate upstairs neighbor. Ultimately, he performs his role as a father and saves the child. When his wife returns she says, couldn’t you have fixed the lamp? Of course the joke is he has scaled a wall, saved his daughter, and evaded a crazy woman, just like a superhero. And like the smallest show on earth, the narrator has gone unnoticed.

The best story of the Bibelot  takes that hidden heroism of the every day and gives it a less adventurous spin. An encyclopedia sales man finds himself mistaken for the son of an old woman. He doesn’t want to play the role but when she said he hasn’t been by for her last few birthdays he relents. He knows he’s making her happy until her daughter calls. She tells him to leave immediately because her son is dead. He agrees and apologizes and on his way out he meets a neighbor who tells him the daughter also died. Here, again, he has a character doing a simple act, one that is inconsequential to everyone but the old woman. In this story it is not just one person participating in these little shows. It is the most successful story because it avoids the episodic feel that some of the earlier mentioned stories. It also has an excellent ending that is neither a twist or a joke. It is his most humane story.

All of Palma’s stories have excellent writing and show a good story teller in action. His ability to show the human failures that go unnoticed, although occasionally hit with a misplaced levity, is strong. With these strong stories it would be great to see more of his non “genre” writing.

Spanish Author Esther Tusquets Has Died

The Spanish author Esther Tusquets has died. You can read the notices at El Pais and La Vanguardia. Books on Spain has an excellent run down in English of her impact and relevance. I’m not familiar with her fiction, but her work as a memorialist has seemed interesting. Part of a publishing family, she wrote about the Franco years from the perspective of one of the wealthy supporters of the regime.

“Tengo sensación de final y quiero empezar a ir ligera de equipaje. A mi edad, uno se lo puede permitir todo”. Hace apenas poco más de dos años que la editora y escritora Esther Tusquets (Barcelona, 1936) justificaba así que se hubiera acentuado levemente su siempre latente irreverencia, que dejó en negro sobre blanco en sus últimos libros de memorias, como en Confesiones de una vieja dama indigna (2009). Ese viaje que intuía ha acabado hoy a los 75 años en el hospital Clínico de Barcelona por una pulmonía, punta de iceberg de un párkinson que padecía desde hacía años. Este martes será enterrada en Cadaquès (Girona), el mismo mar de (casi) todos sus veranos.

Interviews with Spanish Short Story Writer José María Merino (Spanish Content)

El Pais among other newspapers have some interesting interviews with José María Merino on the occasion of the publication of an anthology of his writing by Páginas de Espuma. He is a short story writer I’ve been looking forward to reading soon. Last year his book El libro de las horas contadas was given high praise and end up on some best of the year lists. The interview from El Pais is interesting. It was especially gratifying to hear a short story writer say there are only so many short stories one can read in a sitting, something for all the short stories I read, I find to be true.

-¿Y que hay de los microrrelatos?

-Hay gente que los desdeña, pero es como si un pintor desdeñase el soporte de óleo o el soporte de madera. En ellos puede haber cosas estupendas o cosas deleznables, exactamente igual que en la novela. Para mí, como escritor, lo que aporta es que puedes decir cosas que no podrías decir de otra manera.

-¿Son estos capaces de satisfacer el hambre literaria?

-Sería absurdo comparar un minicuento con Ana Karénina, pero son sabores que pueden resultar más intensos, pueden dar un matiz diferente. El problema es que no puedes leer demasiados minicuentos seguidos, porque te empachan. Pero pueden despertar ideas interesantes y divertirte mucho.

You can read the introduction of the anthology here. It will give a good sense of his work. And if you are looking for a few more interviews the publisher has a few links here, here, here.

Cuentos para el andén Number 7 Out Now

Cuntos para el andén, the free magazine of short stories from Spain is out with its newest edition. It includes a couple of pieces of short fiction from Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel. I’ve been interested in reading something of his ever since I read La familia del aire a few weeks ago. He uses the fantastic in his writing. Also there is one from Francisco Umbral who I don’t know, but have heard his name a few times.

El corazón de los caballos (The Heart of the Horses) by Miguel Ángel Muñoz – A Review

El corazón de los caballos (The Heart of the Horses)
Miguel Ángel Muñoz
Alcalá, 2009, 145 pg

El corazón de los caballos is the Spanish short story writer Miguel Ángel Muñoz’s first novel. A refreshingly short novel, it is a continuation of a story that first appeared in his collection Quédate donde estás (Stay Where You Are), called El reino químico and which was my favorite of the collection when I reviewed it a year or two ago. As in the short story, the novel opens with unspoken tension between  the narrator’s father and grandfather. It is a tension that has populates the world of the grandson, Victor, who doesn’t understand why his father does not like his grandfather. It is a relation that in the novel is distant and still remains unexplained, but it sets the tone of the novel. What seemed like the eccentric behaviors of a loving grandfather in the El reino químico, are actually the foundations of Victor’s problems.

Victor’s life hasn’t quite worked out as he wanted. He was a promising mathematics student but when he fails to get a scholarship after years of graduate study, he loses his patience and attacks the professor. He loses everything and on his journey to his final court date he goes to a Pyrenean town with his boyfriend Andrés, who is going to receive a literary award. It is a journey that begins to trigger a series of memories that he has if not suppressed, avoided. The first is of Eva, his former student, an anorexic and troubled girl who intrigued him. It isn’t so much as sexual, although there is some sort of tension, but one of shock, fear, confusion or even disappointment. When he does discover that she binges at night he is angry and like the mystery of his father and grandfather, she disappears and he hears nothing of her again. The second, darker memory is of a drug addict who likes to climb from balcony to balcony. Scared, a knife in his trembling hand, he watches as the man loses his balance on his porch and falls to his death without doing anything. He’s accused of pushing him, but he’s released because the man was a druggie known for that dangerous game.

With those incidents in the background, Victor and Andrés enter the Pyrenees. The awards ceremony is really just a chance for the town to feel important, but they meet two people of interest: the previous winner, Ines, a mysterious woman who has not let her photo appear on the cover of her books since her first book; and an old man and his granddaughter.  Each has a story that Andrés, a man who lives to gather stories and rewrite them as he sees fit, as if he is reconstructing the reality of those he has stolen from. And it is a form of theft, because he is unrepentant in his using of other people’s lives. The old man talks about a Portuguese man he met during the Spanish Civil War and who had been wrongly accused by the old man’s comrades of being a traitor. The story captivates both Andrés and Victor, and the old man promises they can see a photo of him the next day. From then on Victor’s life begins to get worse and over the next few hours he descends into darkness and violence as Andrés  dumps him, and Victor begins a search for the photo the old man promised. Ultimately, ending in a desperate moment of hate.

What makes the novel interesting is the interplay between the stories that the characters tell, and the way Andrés uses them to recreate Victor’s existence. A week man, Victor is at the mercy of Andrés ability to rewrite his own story, and when that story has ceased to be interesting, he leaves him; thus, rewriting his life again. It is that interweaving of Andrés power to draw a story from a character that creates Victor’s experience. It is as if, Andrés were actually the author of the book. It is a nice play on the journey narrative, and takes the reader deeper into the layers of story than just the Heart of Darkness references (in Spanish it is translated as El corazon de las tinieblas).  Muñoz is an author who is very interested in the interplay of story, reality, and how they construct each other and that playfulness is what makes him an interesting story teller and El corazón de los caballos a book worth reading.

You can read the first chapter here (pdf).

Fernando Iwasaki’s Newest Collection of Short Stories – Papel Carbón – With Excerpt

The Peruvian author Fernando Iwasaki has release a new book of short stories which collects his early works in one volume. The stories were written between 1987 and 1993 and published in two volumes. The ever interesting Paginas de Espuma has just reissued them. An excerpt from the publisher is available here. The story, in many ways, shows themes that he has mined since, especially in España, a parte de mi estés premios. It is about a Peruvian of Japanese descent who is given a Samurai sword that belonged to his grandfather, the last of the great Samurais. He uses the fabulistic and pop cultural images  of Japan to tell an emigrant’s story. For what I’ve read of Iwasaki, he tends towards the comical and plays with perceptions in his writing, avoiding the more realistic, something that can be refreshing.

You can also listen to an interview with him on El ojo critico and read about his method of writing short stories. He generally writes thematic collections, but the ones in these volumes are more disparate. (Via Moleskine Literario)

El escritor Fernando Iwasaki saca a la luz sus primeros relatos en el libro Papel carbón, en el que incluye los volumenes Tres noches de corbata y A Troya, Elena, en los que se incluyen los cuentos que el autor escribió entre 1987 y 1993. Este libro responde a “una época en la que acumulaba los cuentos que escribía y después decidia si tenía el número suficiente para reunirlos en un volumen”, ha explicado este lunes, en declaraciones a Europa Press.

Por tanto, a diferencia de lo que hace ahora, no tenía un “plan” establecido. “Era un método un tanto maternal: estaba de siete cuentos e iba a tener un libro”, indica. Según explica el autor, se trata de relatos que escribió entre los 22 y 32 años. “A esa edad no te ha pasado nada especialmente importante, las cosas relevantes ocurren en la adolescencia y después de los 40”, subraya.

Fernando Iwasaki’s Ajuar funerario (Funeral Dress) Profiled in El Pais

El Pais has a profile of Fernando Iwasaki’s Ajuar funerario, a collection of short stories that has sold the relatively phenomenal 60,000 copies over multiple printings. The stories are in the horror genre, but with Iwasaki there is always humor, and so I doubt the stories are particularly gruesome. If his España, a parte de mi estes premios is any indication the book aught to be rather funny.

Ahí va un ejercicio para los lectores. Imaginen a un escritor latinoamericano, peruano de nacimiento, japonés de origen, sevillano de facto (casado desde hace veinticinco años con una sevillana), director de una fundación de arte flamenco, que escribe un libro de microrrelatos de terror con retrogusto de humor y que se vende como churros en las dos orillas de Atlántico. Es Fernando Iwasaki y su Ajuar Funerario, de la editorial Páginas de espuma, un longseller que lleva más de 60.000 ejemplares vendidos desde 2004 sin perder el ritmo, y acaba de lanzar su séptima edición. ¿El secreto del éxito de sus microrrelatos? Contienen historias… de miedo.

“Empecé con este género de minificción hace años, cuando me encargaron lecturas y conferencias para la universidad. Verdaderamente me sentía incapaz de leer textos míos de ocho o diez páginas, el público no merecía que le aburriese, así que decidí escribir estas pequeñas historias. Pero para que sean microrrelatos tiene que haber historia, y si no lo hay entonces podrá ser un poema en prosa, una anécdota, un aforismo estirado como un chicle… Pero no un microrrelato”. Iwasaki afirma que vivimos en un mundo invadido de ficción aunque no nos demos cuenta. “Ficción son los currículum vitae, son las esquelas de los periódicos, son los anuncios por palabras… Esa persona que publica: ‘Licenciado, 42 años, culto, encantador, desearía conocer señorita…’ ¡Eso es ficción!, ¿Cómo es posible que nadie haya llegado a esa situación de abandono a los 42 con todas esas cualidades?” Bromea el escritor.

Eugenia Rico – New Collection of Stroies plus excerpts in English

The Spanish author Eugenia Rico has published a new book of short stories from Páginas de Espuma called El fin de la raza blanca (The End of the White Race). Not having read the whole book, the title is a little off putting for how loaded a term it can be. You can read an excerpt here. I wasn’t too impressed, but you can also read an English translation of part of one of her novels here. There are also some links to videos, etc.

She has one of the more interesting book trailers I’ve ever seen, one that doesn’t try to use a text genre in a visual genre.

A brief interview about here book is also here.

Profile of the Editor of Anagrama at El Pais

El Pais had a profile of the editor of Anagrama last week. It is interesting how their focus has changed more to the literary. Initially they were publishing political non fiction that was against the dictatorship, but once Franco was gone and democracy had returned they grew tired of political essays.

Cualquiera lo habría dicho en 1969, cuando Herralde fundó el sello: la ficción no estaba entre sus prioridades. En aquellos tiempos heroicos, publicaba esencialmente ensayos en la colección Argumentos o los famosos Cuadernos, textos con los que apuntalaba utopías y alimentaba el fuego de la revolución que había de llegar pero que nunca llegó.

“La primera década de Anagrama fue precaria, pero tolerable”, recuerda, “me parecía importante publicar lo que publicaba y me divertía, pero entonces se combinó la precariedad con el llamado desencanto, que en el ámbito político se materializó con la victoria de Adolfo Suárez, con la que desaparecen todas las ilusiones revolucionarias de la ruptura, del hombre nuevo y de todo lo demás”

De pronto, la creación literaria ya no era algo frívolo para evadirse de las condiciones objetivas. En los ochenta Anagrama reduce drásticamente la publicación de ensayos — “porque yo mismo me canso de leer textos políticos”— y busca una salida en la narrativa, un antiguo amor de su juventud: “la buena literatura”.

The New Boom: Latin American Non-Fiction?

I actually don’t like terms like the Boom, but El Pais had an interesting conversation about a new collection coming out from Alfagrara: Antología de crónica latinoamericana actual. (You can read an excerpt here – the 42 page introduction) It is an anthology of stories from newspapers and magazines that focus on the way journalistic writing has developed as its own art form among Spanish speaking journalists. I know there have been many excellent journalists in the past so I don’t want to over state the boom idea. But the focus on journalistic narrative, apparently, has undergone a resurgence of interest. The name English speakers might recognize is Alejandro Zambra. El Pais explains the phenomenon:

1. De acuerdo,  la palabra boom huele. ¿Lo dejamos en “explosión controlada de la crónica latinoamericana”? Lo dejamos. Pero también diremos que en los últimos años han proliferado en América Latina las revistas, las colecciones, los talleres y hasta los premios dedicados a la crónica. Además, ahora se publican en España dos amplias selecciones dedicadas a ese género híbrido que llaman periodismo narrativo. Hoy mismo llega a las librerías Antología de crónica latinoamericana actual (Alfaguara), coordinada por Darío Jaramillo Agudelo. El 1 de marzo lo hará Mejor que ficción. Crónicas ejemplares (Anagrama), a cargo de Jorge Carrión. El próximo sábado Babelia -que ya dedicó una portada al género– se ocupará de ambos libros y del fenómeno que representan. Hoy Papeles Perdidos ofrece dos crónicas incluidas en la selección de Jaramillo: El sabor de la muerte, del mexicano Juan Villoro, y Bob Dylan en el Auditorium Theater, del dominicano Frank Báez.

Félix J. Palma a Profile from El Cultural

El Cultural has a profile of Félix J. Palma, an author who among other things has had a New York Times best seller. I haven’t read him yet (I have a collection of his short stories La menor espectacular del mundo), but the appearance on the best seller list makes me a little nervous. Given the success of Carlos Ruis Zafón, it doesn’t bode well for the quality of his work, or to put it another way, the best seller list doesn’t tend to reward literary fiction these days. Despite his appearance on the list I haven’t heard much about him in the American press.

Esta voz narrativa que proporciona al lector recién llegado las pistas necesarias para que no se pierda, es la misma que le escamotea información, que salta en el tiempo y el espacio según se le antoje -y se regodea por ello-. “Es un homenaje al narrador victoriano. Es como un prestidigitador, un ilusionista”. En definitiva, una herramienta eficaz para hilvanar una trama compleja poblada de paradojas temporales y universos paralelos que se desarrolla a lo largo de 744 páginas. Pero el componente fantástico es casi una excusa para abordar el tema más universal de todos: una historia de amor. “Los viajes en el tiempo o la visita de seres del espacio quedan en un segundo plano”.

El estigma de las etiquetas

Palma abraza la etiqueta “bestseller” de buen grado pero con ciertos reparos: “Mi literatura es eminentemente lúdica, apuesto por la trama y la peripecia, pero a diferencia de muchos autores de bestsellers, intento que la prosa tenga valor en sí misma, que no sea una mera herramienta de transmisión del relato”. El espejo en el que se mira son, además de Wells o Verne, contemporáneos de éstos como Dumas, Salgari o Stevenson. “Todos ellos practicaron una literatura popular culta. Se dirigían a un nuevo tipo de lector burgués que demandaba aventuras, pero no le tomaban por tonto. En definitiva, hay dos tipos de escritores: los que hacen pensar y los que hacen soñar. Yo me considero dentro del segundo grupo”.