Andres Neuman, Andres Felipe Solano and Santiago Roncagliolo were interviewed on the BBC about their work and their take on Latin American Literature. It is a brief interview, but interesting to hear what they have to say. I can’t help but think, though, that these interviewers need to work a little harder and find questions besides those about magical realism.
EL PEZ VOLADOR
Hipólito G. Navarro
PAGINAS DE ESPUMA, 2008
Occasionally when you begin a short story collection it is quickly apparent that you are reading something masterful where each story shows great attention to structure, language and narrative. That might be enough to make a good collection, but Hipólito G. Navarro’s El pez volador goes beyond the well written and gives one a collection where every story is written in a different style so that his stories keep evolving and suggesting new ways to construct a story. His stories, if one has to categorize them, move from the somewhat realistic interior monologue to meta fiction to more stream of consciousness, although, each of those terms only serves to constrain his work. And little seems to constrain his work which is always surprising, whether it is a twist at the end of a story, a sudden shift in perspective, or his ever present sense of humor, the stories reveal Navarro as a master and one of important writers in the revitalization of the Spanish short story.
Brevity, Darkness, Humor
For Navarro, story telling is a two fold act: telling a story, and telling the story of the story.
El pez volador from Páginas de Espuma (unavailable in English) is a collection of Navarro’s stories published over the last 15 – 20 years. It is hard to know what order they were published in, which might give a sense of his development, but there is a sense of progression, from more familiar story telling to the more meta. Yet that gives the impression that everything he writes about is self referential and refers only to story telling, which is far from the case. For example, Las notas vicrias (The Vicar’s Grades) two boys are given an old piano from a move theater. They spend all their time playing it even though it is missing a few keys. They struggle to learn how to play, to master the music of the Beatles and the Blues, often ignoring their homework, which gets them in trouble. After a few years when they have become good musicians, a stranger moves to the outskirts of town where one of the boy’s father had sold him a house in his orchard. The man is solitary and there are whispers around town about the man who they call the vicar, but the narrator, 30 years latter, doesn’t understand why they used that word, which suggests he was celibate. The narrator knows he lived alone, so he finds the gossip confusing. One day his friend’s father has the piano tuned. When the boys go to play it they learn, to their horror, that what they had learned to play sounds horrible on the newly tuned piano. It isn’t music any more, and they give up, never to play it again. On top of the piano is a card from the tuner: it is the man who has moved to the orchard. Years latter he remembers that the home in the orchard burned down and the piano tuner died. No one cared much but there was talk that the fire was arson and the story ends as the narrator says,
…Rafa y yo, sabemos positivamente que sí que fue provocado.
…Rafa and I, we know that it was arson.
Many of the common elements of Navarro’s stories are here. First there is the humor, a kind of humor based in inexperience or naiveté. His stories are not cruel, and bitter satire is not one of his methods. Following the humor, is a kind of unsettling of dreams, not so much a shattering, although the boys certainly have their dreams shattered, but a comic undoing of what a first seemed so obvious—the piano is in tune. Yet that isn’t to say there isn’t darkness in his work. The conclusion suggests something extremely dark, a violence and revenge that is quite passionate. However, that violence is off page, something only hinted at and softened by the multiplicities of interpretations of the story. The multiplicity of possibilities and the disparate elements that make up the motivations of the story are another trademark of his work. Navarro, leaves as much unsaid as possible. For him, it as if the shorter the better. Las notas nicrias is slightly more than four pages, yet in that brevity he is able to be both funny and dark, starting with a coming of age story that ends in revenge and suggestions of abuse.
The stories Las frutas mas dulces (The Sweetest Fruit) and La cabeza nevada (The Snowy Head) are similar in style, and the power in these stories is how he reveals what is actually happening. In La cabeza neveda it is only until the last moment does a shift in understanding in who the narrator is does the story finally describe reveal itself. It isn’t so much that the story makes no sense until then, rather he lets you make sense of the story, then says what I just told you is true, but you made an assumption where you shouldn’t have. In Las frutas mas dulces he goes again into the dark. In a scant three pages he describes a young girl who gets revenge on her uncle by having sex with a boy who comes into his melon fields to violate the melons. While the girl has her revenge, the question what kind of revenge has she gotten and with whom? Again, Navarro leaves one with more question than he answers.
Playing With Stories
Moving into the more meta or experimental, the story El tren para Irún, por favor? (The Train for Irun, Please?) is told with only questions. Every sentence is a question and it leaves many open ended thoughts. Yet he has structured it so that many of the questions are implicitly answered by the following question. It is an effective technique, although, I found myself a little tired of it part of the way through and then warmed to it again as the life of the narrator filled out more and more. El tren is probably the most autobiographical piece, too. In his interviews he has mentioned his father who owned a bar in a village in southern Spain and who eventually died of alcoholism. In this story, a son is returning to a village after his father has died. He hasn’t seen him for years and is full of questions about what he will find. Will he ever get to know his father, understand what it was like to be an immigrant in Germany in the early 70’s. From these questions, though, the troubled father emerges. Despite the unsettling number of questions, El tren para Irún, por favor? is probably the story that is the closest in theme to modern American short stories: family dysfunction.
In A buen entendor (Dieciocho cuentos muy pequeños redactados ipsofácticamente) (A Good Understander — 18 very small stories edited ipso factly) Navarro dispenses with even the semblance of traditional story telling and gives the reader a series of short pieces with titles that seem to edit themselves, as if there were two voices talking. Each piece seems unconnected with the next, but as the story comes to an end they begin to refine themselves and the story that contains the little stories finally takes shape. The writing is some of his most playful and meta at the same time. For example, he opens the story with this piece that sets the action, but also makes a little joke with the repetition of the title in the first phrase.
I came about the anouncment
—I came about the announcement.
—Alright! You already told everyone about it.
Listen, this thing about fucking interests me
—Listen, this thing about fucking interest me.
—Alright! You already told everyone about it.
Yo venía por lo del anuncio
—Yo venía por lo del anuncio.
—Ya!, eso sel lo dirás todas.
Hombre, eso de follar me interesa
—Hombre, eso de follar me interesa.
—Ya, eso se lo dirás a todas.
Later, after several short bits, the phrase is repeated, but in a longer, more contextual frame:
I Came About the Anouncement
—I came about the announcement, he told her.
—Don’t fuck with me, she answered surprised (and no wonder).
—Listen, this thing about fucking interests me, came out suddenly.
—Alright, you already told everyone about it, replied the woman, inevitably.
Yo venía por lo del anuncio
—Yo venía por lo del anuncio — le dijo.
—No me jodas — contstó ella asmobrada (y no era para menos).
—Hombre, es que eso de follar me interesa -soltó el de pronto.
—Ya, eso se le dirás a todas —replicó la chica, inevitablemente.
Each of these parts slowly builds a story and and expands the story. Ultimately, in the last bit he puts all the pieces together and each of them is a different way of looking at the character and his way of thinking. At the same time it is a way of looking at how a story is constructed in pieces, as if the characters who are living the story are writing it too.
Navarro’s playfulness extends to the title story, too. In Sucedáneo: pez volador (relato en varios tiempos e higienes) (Substitute: Flying Fish — A Story in Various Tempos and Hygienes) Navarro again plays with structure. This time he breaks ups the story into numbered sections that are thematically grouped by the numbering. He then breaks up all the story into little sections that are imagistic and leave the reader, as he does in so many of his stories, wondering how the story will come together. In Pez volador another one his common elements appears: the natural world. Navarro, a former biology student, put vivid descriptions of the natural world in his works. In this story the main character keeps his bath tub as a kind of stagnate pond filled with worms, fish, and other creatures. It is not only a pond for observing, but one for bathing in and the protagonist spends his time sitting in the bath letting the creature crawling over him. Naturally, that is something one would not want to let others know and he keeps the shameful secret. The contrast of the secret with the intertwining stories creates a tension that, as in many of the stories, the characters are isolated, in a world of their own making. The resolution of the story, brining the natural into the larger world, the character out his isolation, and tying all the threads of the story together, again creates a story whose resolution is not only the end of the story, but a resolution of that one particular exploration of story telling. For Navarro, story telling is a two fold act: telling a story, and telling the story of the story.
Navarro is considered one of the preeminent short story writers of the last 30 years. His works, especially El aburimiento, Lester (The boredom, Lester), have been touchstones for the revitalization of the Spanish short story since Spain emerged from the dictatorship of Franco. With his power as a story teller and stylist his stories are a continuation of the legacy of of the Spanish language short story by such notables as Julio Cortazar. Hopefully, one day more of his work will be available in English.
What’s In English?
So far there isn’t too much English from Navarro. This is a shame and hopefully more will become available. Unfortunately, he has two strikes against him: American’s don’t read a lot of works in translation; and short story collections tend not to be published. Mix the to together and we may be waiting for some time There are a few works out there for the diligent and I would recommend reading his stories if you can. The NH Hotel chain published a collection of stories called, Bedside stories 6, which contains a couple of stories. I have yet to see a copy anywhere on the Intenent, so good luck finding it. In the collection Been There, Read That! Stories for the Armchair Traveller from The University of Victoria in New Zeeland he has one story. The book is readily available through sites like Abe Books. And the author has said that his translator Nicola Gilmour is working on a story for Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction, one can only hope it will come out in 2011. If it does come out, it will be the easiest way for and American to read one of his stories.
El País profiles Ednodio Quintero on the publication of his book Combates, a collection of his short stories written between 1995 and 2000.While the stories do not appear to be magical realism, they are not realistic either.
[…there is] an abundance of stories in a tough landscape that marks a world a bit anguished, almost mythological, of warriors and characters with strange codes, susceptible to metamorphosis and anthropomorphism, of those that know just thanks to a language that is as precise as brief.
[…]abundancia de historias en un paisaje duro que enmarca un mundo un poco angustiante, casi mitológico, de guerreros y personajes con códigos extraños, susceptibles a la metamorfosis y el antropoformismo, de los que sabemos lo justo gracias a un lenguaje tan preciso como breve.
He also seems to be a writer obsessed with language, too.
“Language is a sloppy instrument for everyone; the writer has to send his stories not to the market, but Cervantes and the language itself to help create a language with proper lexicon and particular constructions…” A Style? “No, it goes father than what I want to say…And after, one dies: my Faustian pact would be this.”
“El idioma es un instrumento descuidado por todo el mundo; el escritor tiene que darle cuentas no al mercado sino a Cervantes y a la propia lengua, ayudar a crear un idioma, con un léxico propio y construcciones de forma particular…”. ¿Un estilo? “No, va más allá lo que quiero decir… Y después, morirse: mi pacto fáustico sería ése”.
Perhaps if I ever finish my current crop of Spanish language books, I will pick up a copy of this one.
There is an excellent, if writterly, appreciation of José Emilio Pacheco in this Sunday’s cultural supplement in La Jornada. It is certainly worth a read if you have an interest and know Spanish. Pacheco is the author of Las batellas en el desierto (The Battles in the Desert) which I reviewed sometime ago and remains one of my most popular posts. Poniatowska focuses on three things: his relation to the past; why young people are so dedicated to him; and what has made him the writer he is. On the first count he is an other of memory but not nostalgia: “José Emilio cree en la memoria, a la nostalgia la repudia.” Which Poniatowska points out in quoting from the end of Batallas en el desierto
They demolished the school, they demolished Mariana’s building, they demolished my house, they demolished the Roma neighborhood. That city is gone. That country is gone. There isn’t any memory of Mexico form those years. And it doesn’t bother anyone: who wants to remember that horror? Everything goes like the records on a record player. I will never know if Mariana is still living. If she was a live she’d be 70.
Demolieron la escuela, demolieron el edificio de Mariana, demolieron mi casa, demolieron la colonia Roma. Se acabó esa ciudad. Terminó aquel país. No hay memoria del México de aquellos años. Y a nadie le importa: de ese horror, quién puede tener nostalgia. Todo pasó como pasan los discos en la sinfonola. Nunca sabré si aún vive Mariana. Si viviera tendría sesenta años.”
Second, the youth like Pacheco because he is like them and respects them. Part of this is his focus on youth and part of it his willingness to meet with them. When his conferences have filled up he has given two conferences, one in the conference hall and the other outside where the students are waiting for him.
The young who still live their memories of childhood find themselves in El viento distate, El pricipio del placer, Las batallas en el desierto (The Battles in the Desert) and through Condesa neighboorhod of Moriras lefjos and they celebrate the novelist and short story writer with never ending gratitude. It is rare to feel gratitude for a living writer but Jose Emilio gathers all their devotions. When the boy Carlos in Los batallas en el desierto confesses, “I never thought that Jim’s mother was that young, that elegant, least of all that beautiful. I didn’t know how to tell him. I can’t describe what I felt when she shook my hand,” readers relive the torment of their first love. The same occurs with the stories in La sangre de Medusa written between 1956 and 1984. Jose Emilio touches fibers in which they recognize themselves, in which you and him and I and we identify with. On reading it, everyone rewrites “Tarde o remparano”. His is ours. We make the book with him, we are his part, he changes us into authors, he reflects us, he keeps us in mind, he completes us, and the reading takes away our problems. We owe him being readers, as much as we owe him for life.
According to him, those truly unhappy loves, those terrible loves are amongst the young because they have no hope. “In any part of your life you have some little possibility of reuniting with the person you love, but when you are young your history of love has no future.”
Los jóvenes que todavía viven sus recuerdos de infancia se encuentran a sí mismos en El viento distante, El principio del placer, Las batallas en el desierto y hasta en la colonia Condesa de Morirás lejos y le brindan al novelista y al cuentista un testimonio de gratitud interminable. Es raro sentir gratitud por un escritor vivo pero José Emilio reúne todas las devociones. Cuando el niño Carlos de Las batallas en el desierto confiesa: “Nunca pensé que la madre de Jim fuera tan joven, tan elegante y sobre todo tan hermosa. No supe qué decirle. No puedo describir lo que sentí cuando ella me dio la mano”, los lectores reviven el tormento de su primer amor. Lo mismo sucede con los cuentos de La sangre de Medusa escritos de 1956 a 1984. José Emilio toca fibras en las que se reconocen, en las que tú y él y yo, ustedes y nosotros nos identificamos. Al leerlo, cada quién escribe de nuevo “Tarde o temprano”. Lo suyo es nuestro. Hacemos el libro con él, somos su parte, nos convierte en autores, nos refleja, nos toma en cuenta, nos completa, nos quita lo manco, lo cojo, lo tuerto, lo bisoño. Le debemos a él ser lectores, por lo tanto le debemos a él la vida.
Según él, los amores verdaderamente desdichados, los amores terribles son los de los niños porque no tienen ninguna esperanza. “En cualquier otra época de tu vida puedes tener alguna mínima posibilidad de reunirte con la persona que amas, pero cuando eres niño tu historia de amor no tiene porvenir.”
Finally, he is a writer whose history has been influenced by some of the greats of 20th century Mexican Writing. Moreover, his family had been part of the great events of the 20th century, his father escaping execution only through the intervention of President Obregon.
Some of these family friendships were liberal like Juan de la Cabada and Hector Perez Martinez and most of all Jose Vasconcelos. Carlos Monsivais remembers that Jose Emilio used to invite him to eat at his house and they would both listen seriously and quietly to Vasconcelos, an absolutely fascinating personality. Together they would also go to visit Martin Luis Guzman who both of them admired, and don Julio Torri who would tell them in a low voice the secret history of Mexican pornography.
Algunas de esas amistades familiares eran libertarias, como Juan de la Cabada y Héctor Pérez Martínez, y sobre todo José Vasconcelos. Carlos Monsiváis recordó que José Emilio lo invitaba a comer a su casa y ambos escuchaban muy serios y callados a Vasconcelos, personalidad absolutamente fascinante. Juntos iban a visitar también a Martín Luis Guzmán, que es una de las admiraciones de los dos, y don Julio Torri les hablaba en voz baja de la historia secreta de la pornografía mexicana.
Letras Libres reviewed Emilio, los chistes y la muerte, By Fabio Morábito recently and for those who like to read fiction as much for the style as the story it looks like an interesting book. If you read Spanish the review is worth a look.
The style of this novel is that of his stories and that is a good thing: we are before one of the stellar writers of our literature. Before anything, it is his self control. It is known that Morábito did not learn Spanish until he was 15, and it is noticeable: his relation with Spanish is adult-like, lacking the natural childishness fascination, marked with a distrust that obliges him to ponder every word. There is not, nor does it seem like there is, artificial nor capricious lyrics. If there is poetry, it is the poetry of Mondays: “Mondays/ they take apart the platforms/ and the bandstands, / they remove the nails / and the promises,/ reality returns / to its brutish state, / to poetry.” (from From Monday All the Year) There is a simplicity but not it is not simplistic, an economy but not a coldness. The sentences-he doesn’t stop to hide their elegance-are the remains of a fight we don’t see. Because there is a struggle: Morábit’s struggle to purge the language.
El estilo de esta novela es el de sus cuentos, y eso es buena cosa: estamos ante uno de los prosistas estelares de nuestra literatura. Ante todo, su contención. Se sabe que Morábito no aprendió el idioma hasta los quince años, y se nota: su relación con el español es adulta, como desprovista de la natural fascinación infantil, como teñida de una desconfianza que lo obliga a ponderar cada palabra. No hay, no parece haber, artificio ni caprichos líricos. Si hay poesía, es la poesía de los lunes: “Los lunes/ se desmontan las tarimas/ y los estrados,/ se desclavan lo clavado/ y las promesas,/ la realidad vuelve/ a su estado bruto,/ a la poesía” (“De lunes todo el año”). Hay sencillez pero no simpleza, economía de me-
dios pero no frialdad. Las frases –no termina de ocultarlo su elegancia– son restos de una lucha que no observamos. Porque hay una lucha: la de Morábito purgando el idioma.
I finished reading Zoetrope All Story: The Latin American Issue a week ago and have sometime to think about the quality of the stories. Before I start, though, I must say it was a pleasant surprise to have the text both in English and Spanish, which gave me a chance to read the stories in the original.
On the whole I wasn’t impressed with the stories. Many of them just weren’t that interesting to me. I’m not sure exactly why. Some of it was the writing style, which didn’t interest me too much, but mostly it was the choice of subjects. The worst was the story about the porn actor. I stopped reading it after a page and a half.
There were several stories, though, that did stand out. Tuesday Meetings by Slavko Zupcic was probably the best. The writing was fresh and the story about inmates in an asylum waiting for the pope’s visit was interesting and funny. Insular Menu by Ronaldo Menéndez from Cuba talk of the privations in Castro’s Cuba with a humor that didn’t dwell on the politics but human survival, although, cat lovers shouldn’t read the story. An Open Secret by the late Aura Estrada had some nice touches, although I think the story had more to do with Juan Rulfo than Borges. And, finally, Family by Rodrigo Hasbún was had some nice shifting perspective.
Zoetrope All Story: The Latin American Issue isn’t the best of Latin America, but a sampling of young writers. Some of these writers are very good and are worth a further look. Considering it can take years before young writers can make it into English, this is a good collection even if it is a little uneven.
El País reports that Jorge Volpi won the Debate-Casa de América prize for his work El insomnio de Bolívar. From the description it sounds very interesting, a little like News From the Empire. All I need to do now is find a copy.
The history of Latin America from its mythic past to an imagined future is what El insomnio de Bolívar touches. With this work the Mexican writer Jorge Volpi won the Debate-Casa de América prize yesterday. This book, acording to the jury, is “well documented, avoids an academic tone and contributes with humor, irony and great literary skill, to the understanding of the American continent.” The winning work was selected by the jury from among 42 works.
The writer was in the US when he received the news of the award. “I imagine an American future with enormous problems and challenges and with the dream that all of America, including the English speaking, will form something like the European Union.” Volpi has written an essay divided into four parts about the identity, democracy, narrative, and the future of Latin America. “The las part I have added some bits of fiction,” said the writer.
La historia de América Latina desde su pasado mítico hasta un futuro imaginado es lo que aborda El insomnio de Bolívar. Con esta obra, el escritor mexicano Jorge Volpi (México, 1968) se hizo ayer con el Premio Debate-Casa de América. Este libro, según el jurado, está “ampliamente documentado, escapa al tono académico y contribuye, con humor, ironía y gran oficio literario, a la comprensión del continente americano”. La obra ganadora fue seleccionada por el jurado entre un total de 42 trabajos presentados.
El escritor se encontraba en EE UU cuando recibió la noticia del premio. “Imagino un futuro de América con enormes problemas y desafíos y con el sueño de que toda América, incluida la anglosajona, formase algo parecido a la Unión Europea”. Volpi ha escrito un ensayo divido en cuatro partes en el que se acerca a la identidad, la democracia, la narrativa y el futuro de América Latina. “A la última parte le he podido añadir algunos tintes de ficción”, señaló el escritor.
The Maid is one of those claustrophobic movies that seldom roams into varied locations and keeps to one character almost all the time, yet feels open and finds in the littlest of actions an expansive interior world. The interior world for the viewer, though, is a mystery, because it is unverbalized. The Maid is a visual movie, almost seeming like a narratorless documentary. It is in the subtle scenes and excellent acting of the actor who plays Raquel that makes the anything but dry.
As the movie opens that employs Raquel is trying to celebrate her 40th birthday. She is unwilling to celebrate it with them, though. Is she shy, or afraid? It is not clear. What is obvious is she is a quiet, pensive character. She goes about her work quickly and efficiently, but also disturbs the older daughter while sleeping in a fit of vindictiveness. She protests to the mother of the family about bringing in another maid to helper, saying she has always taken care of the family for 20 years. When a maid is brought in anyway, she locks her out of the house. When another maid is brought in she locks her out of the house too. Through all this strange behavior, though, the family keeps her. Finally, though, what ever was bothering her leads to her collapse and she ends up in the hospital driven in a panic by the family as if she was their own child. While she is in the hospital the family brings in a new maid, Lucy. Lucy is unlike the other maids and when Raquel returns to work and tries to lock her out of the house instead of trying to get back in the house, begins to nude sunbathe. It breaks the ice between them and they soon become friends and Raquel goes with her to her family’s farm for Christmas, something it is implied she hadn’t done since she’d lived with the family. When Lucy leaves, Raquel is disappointed, but instead of retreating into her old shell, takes up one of Lucy’s hobbies, jogging. As the movie ends Raquel is running down a street in listening to music and dressed just like Lucy when she went jogging.
Raquel is a mystery. What is bothering her and why is she taking it out on the family? What is apparent is her need for a wider experience, not so much in adventures in the world, but among friends. She has lived with a very paternal family that appreciates her, but does constrain her. She has lived with them for 20 years and has known almost nothing else. She is cut off from her family for a reason that is never explained but obviously bothers her. She is part child that has never grown moving into the family at 20 and a perfectionist who can no longer stand the exactitude. When she goes to Lucy’s she goes to bed with Lucy’s uncle but is unable to consummate the night probably because it is outside her experience. Moreover, the family she lives with is very religious with crucifixes in every room and prayers every night. Between her youth, her inexperience and the family she lives with, she is struggling to grow up. When Lucy comes, she presents a new avenue, not just another maid just like her. The final scene of the film is of Raquel taking on not only the persona of Lucy, but a new persona that is free of the house and her past.
The even handedness of the film as it finds Raquel and Raquel finds herself is what makes the film so good. It is a search without the conventions of search; a movie of self discovery without the clichés of self discovery. It is a movie where the questions you are left with will begin the search and extend the film beyond the theater—the mark of a good film.
Edition number 34 of Los Noveles is now on-line. I haven’t had much time to read it, but it does look promising with a mix of fiction and essays.
El País has yet another article marveling at the excitement about Roberto Bolaño in the English speaking world. The author is primarily interested in whether the excitement is misplaced.
I have read that the North American success of Bolaño is due to his premature death and in fact have constructed a cursed legend partly false of someone politically persecuted, on the literary margin, and a heroin addict. I have read the the success of Bolaño is due to the way in a certain mode Bolaño was a North American author whose literary models are North American and whose prose works better in English than in Spanish. I have read that the North American success of Bolaño is because he found a great North American editor that has known how to use all these things to make Bolaño a great success in North America. I have many answers more, but all of them has produced an embarrassing sensation that these have been engineered not only to reduce the merit of Bolaño’s success, which at the end of these stories is unimportant, but to diminish the merit of Bolaño’s works, if they have any. I confess that I don’t understand them.
He leído que el éxito norteamericano de Bolaño se debe a su muerte prematura y al hecho de que se haya construido en torno a él una leyenda maldita y en parte falsa de perseguido político, marginado literario y adicto a la heroína. He leído que el éxito norteamericano de Bolaño se debe a que en cierto modo Bolaño era un escritor norteamericano, cuyos modelos literarios son norteamericanos y cuya prosa funciona mejor en inglés que en castellano. He leído que el éxito norteamericano de Bolaño se debe a que ha encontrado un gran editor norteamericano que ha sabido usar todas esas cosas para convertir a Bolaño en un gran éxito norteamericano. He leído muchas respuestas más, pero todas ellas me producen la embarazosa sensación de que han sido ingeniadas no sólo para rebajar el mérito del éxito de Bolaño, lo que a fin de cuentas no tendría ninguna importancia, sino para rebajar el mérito de la obra de Bolaño, lo que sí la tiene. Confieso que no alcanzo a entenderlas.
In the end he says it is due to the art of Bolaño that he is a success.
The reality is that Bolaño experienced during his life an absolute success. I want to say that the ghostly question is a mistaken question and the question that at first look seems correct also es a mistaken question. Every true writer knows that success and failure (or what tends to be called success and failure) are illusions: the test is that they obtain it, the great writers, the good writers, the average writers, the bad writers, and the terrible writers; or in other words: every true writer knows that what truely is a success and a failure. Cyril Connolly wrote that “the true mission of a writer is create a master work.” There are few writers who get to create one; in my opinion, Bloaño was one of them: he experienced the incomparable intensity of writing not just one master work but more than one. No one that I have known knows better that Bolaño in order to be a writer there is no greater success than to be able in your wildest dreams compare yourself to him.
Porque la realidad es que Bolaño conoció en vida un éxito absoluto. Quiero decir que la pregunta fantasmal es una pregunta equivocada y la pregunta que a primera vista parece acertada también es una pregunta equivocada. Todo escritor de verdad sabe que el éxito y el fracaso (o eso que suele llamarse éxito y fracaso) son espejismos: la prueba es que lo obtienen escritores buenísimos, escritores buenos, escritores regulares, escritores malos y escritores malísimos; o dicho de otro modo: todo escritor de verdad sabe lo que son de verdad el éxito y el fracaso. Cyril Connolly escribió que “la verdadera misión de un escritor es crear una obra maestra”. Hay poquísimos escritores que consiguen crearla; en mi opinión, Bolaño fue uno de ellos: experimentó la intensidad incomparable de escribir no una obra maestra sino más de una. Nadie que yo haya conocido sabía mejor que Bolaño que para un escritor no hay ningún éxito que pueda ni remotamente compararse a ése.
Perhaps only an author would say this, but there is some truth for non writers too.
El País had an article about three young authors recently. Naturally as with any article about young authours, there is the sense of we are here to over throw the past. They are not interested in Fuentes at all, in part because his 80th birthday with such fanfare. Fuentes is to these writers as Paz was to Bolaño.
Their writing sounds interesting to some degree. It is full of violence and possibly reflects a world that has seemed to get more violent recently. For the Mexican author it makes sense; the others I don’t know.
In the three [novels] in one way or another, you find violent characters. More perhaps in Busqued’s, thanks to the brutal Duarte who is an ex soldier, kidnapper, abuser, and obsessed with hardcore sex; but not less than the others. If no, there is el violent behavior of Isabel, the daughter of the protagonist of Morella’s work, a woman that has no doubts in mistreating and kidnapping her own father. Or Golo, protagonists of Maldonado’s work, the violent one, violent in its details, in its sex, in its relation with the world. Can one write these days without touching on the subject?
En las tres, de una u otra manera, se encuentran personajes violentos. Más quizás en la de Busqued, gracias al personaje brutal de Duarte, ex militar, secuestrador, abusador, obseso del sexo hardcore; pero no menos en las otras. Si no, ahí está el violento comportamiento de Isabel, la hija del protagonista de la obra de Morella, una mujer que no duda en maltratar y secuestrar a su propio padre. O Golo, absoluto protagonista en la de Maldonado, violento ena de Maldonado, violento en los detalles, en el sexo, en su relación con el mundo. ¿Se puede escribir hoy en día sin abordar el tema?
It wouldn’t be any worse than the best seller lists in the States except they had to import the nonsense that fills their charts. It is too bad globalization means even your local hack has to worry about being outsourced.
EL PAÍS notes that António Lobo Antunes is going to stop writing after his next novel.
António Lobo Antunes announced yesterday that he will write a novel to “round out his works” and that after he will not publish anything more. In the declaration published yesterday by Diário de Notícias, the Portuguese writer confirmed that after Que Cavalos São Aqueles Que Fazem Sombra no Mar?, the book he is finishing now and will publish in October, he will begin another novel that he thinks he will finish after two you years of work and then after “that will be the end of novels, articles, everything; I will not publish anything more. My voice, spoken or written, will not be heard again. “
António Lobo Antunes anunció ayer que escribirá una novela para “redondear su obra” y que después no publicará más. En unas declaraciones publicadas ayer por Diário de Notícias, el escritor luso afirma que tras Que Cavalos São Aqueles Que Fazem Sombra no Mar?, el libro que está terminando y publicará en octubre, empezará una novela que calcula que le llevará dos años de trabajo y que luego “se acabaron las novelas, las crónicas, todo, no publico nada más. Mi voz, hablada o escrita, no se volverá a escuchar”.
Sad if it is true, but I wonder how can one know they only have one more novel left in them.
There was a good article about Bolaño in La Jornada’s Sunday supplement this week talking about Bolaño’s views of exile. According to Gustavo Ogarrio, Bolaño didn’t really believe in political exile because it made him a victim, which he was not. He also thought it was pointless to be nostalgic about the old country
“Can you be nostalgic for a country where you were about to die? Can you be nostalgic for the poverty, the intolerance, the arrogance, the injustice? The refrain intoned by Latin Americans and also by other writers in other poor or traumatized zones carries on the nostalgia, the return to the country of birth, and to me this has always sounded like a lie.”
“¿Se puede tener nostalgia por la tierra en donde uno estuvo a punto de morir? ¿Se puede tener nostalgia de la pobreza, de la intolerancia, de la prepotencia, de la injusticia? La cantinela, entonada por latinoamericanos y también por escritores de otras zonas depauperadas o traumatizadas, insiste en la nostalgia, en el regreso al país natal, y a mí eso siempre me ha sonado a mentira.”
The article goes on to talk about the novel Amuleto which takes place in Mexico during one of the darker times in recent Mexican history. The link between the dictatorships of Latin America are clear.
The exile, though, is not just political, but literary, yet the literary exile is, too, often over done.
If the novel The Savage Detectives is interpreted and read as the parodic and tragic dissolution of a certain narrative vanguard in Latin America, represented by the search for one of the founding poets of Visceral Realism—Cesárea Tinajero— and the motive for the wild detective investigation of the poets Ulises Lima y Arturo Belano, Amuleto allows another paralel reading, concentrating a parody of the post vanguard in the voice of a melodramatic and earthy poet, Auxilio Lacouture.
Si la novela Los detectives salvajes acepta ser leída e interpretada como la disolución paródica y trágica de cierta narrativa vanguardista en América Latina, representada en la búsqueda de una de las poetas fundadoras del real visceralismo –Cesárea Tinajero–, motivo de la pesquisa detectivesca y salvaje de los poetas Ulises Lima y Arturo Belano, Amuleto admite otra lectura paralela, al concentrar esta parodia postvanguardista en la voz de una poetisa melodramática y telúrica, Auxilio Lacouture.
Roberto Bolaño: los exilios narrados is well worth the read.
There is a great interview in El País with Ana María Matute. They talk about how her heath has kept her from writing recently even though she has been completely mentally able to write. When talking about literature they discuss Matute’s works for children and how she has often written from the perspective of children. It has been very important throughout her career to write for them, in part because there wasn’t anything good and she wanted to write for her son. They also talk about how her mother supported her writing, something rare during the Franco Period, and with her help would type up her drafts before submitting them to publishers.
There was fascinating questions about her style.
You seem especially predisposed to this type of literature [sparse], since you uphold plain and straightforward writing that is not easy to achieve; en fact, you say it is very difficult. Yes. It is that I want the whole world to understand me. I don’t want to torture the reader. No. There are a lot of writers that love to torturer the reader. Not me! [Said harshly] I like that the understand me. For this reason I write. In addition, I’m not such an elitist.
Usted parece especialmente predispuesta a este tipo de literatura, ya que defiende la escritura llana y sencilla, que no es tan fácil de conseguir; de hecho, usted dice que es muy difícil. Sí. Es que yo quiero que me entienda todo el mundo. Yo no quiero torturar al lector. No. Hay muchos escritores a los que les encanta torturar al lector. ¡A mí no! [Proclama con dureza]. A mí me gusta que me entiendan. Para eso escribo. Además, no soy tan elitista.
She also talked about her relationship to the Civil War and recent pushes to investigate the past in Spain.
Undoubtedly it is a traumatic experience. It was tremendous. I still can’t stand fireworks. They have the same sound as the bombs. The bombardments here in Barcelona were terrible. By sea and by air. We lived on Platón Street and back then I saw the sea from my room and I was completely frightened. You feel so powerless…My father would say: take everyone by the hand against the teacher’s wall. And we all would stay that way…[She remains quiet, in suspense, with a face of fear]. I also remember the lines. Those of us who were bourgeois children, those that didn’t go out without one’s father [she makes a face of horror], we quickly had to go stand in line to get bread, where nobody gave a damn. For us it was great! Because we had the liberty to come and go…We looked like mice wanting to go after cheese. My older brother and I discovered freedom. We enjoyed it a lot.
I have found that many people your age reject, perhaps out of fear, the plans to recover the historical memory, to remove this part of history from the past. It is that the way perhaps the fear hasn’t gone, but yes the sadness [remains], the laceration, and the waking of hatreds. I understand that those that have not lived the war have their own feelings, but for me it makes me shiver. To return to relive, to remember. I remember the attempted coup de Tejero [in 1981]. I was with my son in a taxi and we hear the shots on the radio. Look! And I became desperate. “Not again! No, God, not again!” My son asked me: “What’s happening mama?” The taxi cab driver and my son began to talk about what was happening and I would only say: “No, not again. No I will resist it.
Indudablemente es una experiencia muy traumática. Es tremenda. Yo todavía ahora no soporto los fuegos artificiales. Tienen el mismo sonido que las bombas. Los bombardeos aquí en Barcelona fueron terribles. Por mar y por aire. Nosotros vivíamos en la calle de Platón y entonces veía el mar desde mi cuarto y pasaba un miedo espantoso. Te sientes tan impotente… Mi padre decía: cojámonos todos de la mano, contra el muro maestro. Y así nos quedábamos todos… [Se queda quieta, en suspenso, con cara de susto]. También me acuerdo de las colas. Nosotros, que éramos unos niños de clase burguesa, de esos que no salían más que con las tatas [pone cara de horror], teníamos de pronto que ir a hacer colas para conseguir el pan, sin que a nadie le importara. ¡Para nosotros era fenomenal! Porque teníamos libertad de entrar y salir… Parecíamos ratones deseando salir del queso. Mi hermano mayor y yo descubrimos la libertad. La disfrutamos mucho.
He comprobado que mucha gente de su edad rechaza, quizá por miedo, los intentos de recuperar la memoria histórica, de remover esa parte del pasado. Es que de la guerra quizá ya no te queda el miedo, pero sí la tristeza, el desgarro y un despertar de odios. Entiendo que los que no han vivido la guerra tengan un sentimiento distinto, pero a mí me escalofría. Volver a repasar, a recordar. Me acuerdo del intento de golpe de Estado de Tejero [en 1981]. Yo iba con mi hijo en un taxi y oímos los tiros a través de la radio. ¡Mira!, me entró una desesperación… ¡Otra vez no! ¡No, por Dios, otra vez no! Mi hijo me preguntaba: “¿Pero qué te pasa, mamá?”. El taxista y él empezaron a hablar de lo que estaba pasando y yo sólo decía: “No, otra vez no. No lo resistiré”.
El País has another article about Bolanomania in the United States. (You can see a previous post I did on the subject here). It talks about some of the reviews he has received, how most talk about his biography as much or more than the books and notes the controversy over his heroin usage. The article also notes that one’s reputation after death is based on luck. The author notes that the translation into English has created a different Bolaño, a Bolaño that Americans read from within their own cultural framework. Nothing surprising there. He goes on to compare Bolaño to Kerouac and suggests Americans are placing reading Kerouac and the Beat’s vitalism into Bolaños vitalism and from this reading they are culturally locating Bolaño.
Probably the North American reader recognizes a diction en these novels that es not dissimilar and lets the reader make the book their own, with local flavor and its riches. In English the books are not only very literary and miticulous, pasionate and brillant; they are, over all, vitalist.
The grand tradition of North American vitalist prose, in effect, has been the setting where the various styles of fiction characteristically Yankee were defined. The greatest stylist of this style is Jack Kerouac, and his On the Road, written in 1951 and rejected by 19 publishers before its publication in 1957, is a a modern classic. Even though the Beat Generation ended up being devoured by its own reputation, its works are more serious than the image of its authors, simplified to the point of being taken granted, and converted into merchandise. The brilliance of that vibrant, radiant, fluid, and unpredictable prose echoes like a spell in the pages of Bolaño.
Probablemente el lector norteamericano reconoce en estas novelas una dicción que no le es ajena, y que le permite hacer suya, con apetito local, su riqueza. En inglés no son sólo muy literarias y minuciosas, apasionadas y brillantes; son, sobre todo, vitalistas.
La gran tradición de la prosa norteamericana vitalista, en efecto, ha sido el escenario donde se definen los varios estilos de la ficción característicamente yanqui. El mayor estilista de este estilo es Jack Kerouac, y su On the road, escrita en 1951 y rechazada por 19 editoriales antes de su publicación en 1957, un clásico moderno. Aunque la generación Beat terminó devorada por su biografía popular, sus obras son más serias que la imagen de sus autores, simplificados al punto de darse por leídos, convertidos en mercancía residual. El brillo de esa prosa vivaz, irradiante, fluida, imprevisible, resuena como un conjuro en las páginas de Bolaño.
El País has published there list of the best books of 2008. It is an interesting list and comparing it to the lists I’ve seen in major English language presses it is quickly obvious who many translations made the list. Chelsa Beach is number one on their list.
I was watching El publico lee on Canal Sur the other day and I began to think about who this show differed from some of the others I’ve seen in the recent past on in the US. For those of you who don’t know, El publico lee is a Spanish author interview show. But it also has people from the general public who have read the book and ask the author questions. Between the sets and the seriousness Canal Sur gives to the author it makes for, perhaps, a better show than those I’ve seen in the US. That said, I’ve never thought Book TV on CSPAN2 was that bad, except that it doesn’t cover any fiction. If you understand Spanish I would give it a look. My one complaint is they don’t archive more than two weeks of shows, so if you miss it, that’s too bad. I never did get to watch the end of the interview with Najat el Hachni and the book sounded interesting.
Ana María Matute has a new book out and El País has given it a great review. If you have never read her work, she is definitely worth it. Her sparse short stories are excellent. Her name often comes up around Nobel time (although that may just be in Spain). If you are unfamiliar with her, the description from the article is a great synopsis.
Aunque perteneciente, cronológicamente, a la llamada generación del medio siglo, con cuyos más destacados miembros comparte determinados trasfondos temáticos (la Guerra Civil española, la desolación como paisaje moral de los años de posguerra, la rememoración de la infancia como irreparable pérdida de la inocencia edénica, y el descalabro humano reinante en una sociedad en la que los más débiles sucumben bajo la impiedad de los poderosos), la escritura de Ana María Matute siempre se ha regido por un talante despegado de las consignas tanto ideológicas como estéticas de la época.
Although she belongs, chronologically, to the mid century generation, whose most well know members share certain thematic overtones (the Spanish Civil Way, the desolation as moral voyage through the years after the war, the child’s memory as the irreparable loss of an Eden like innocence, and the reigning human misfortune in a society where the weakest succumb to the impunity of the powerful), the writing of Ana María Matute has always been marked by a talent not tied to ideologies but the aesthetics of the era.