November 2011 Words Without Borders Featuring Caribbean Spanish and French Language Writers

The November 2011 Words Without Borders featuring Caribbean Spanish and French language writers. The Spanish language writers come from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The featured Spanish language writers are below.

This month we present literature from the Caribbean. Writers from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Martinique, and Puerto Rico contribute compelling portraits of their countries and societies. From sober reports on natural disasters and political oppression to antic depictions of sexuality run amok, the pieces collected here testify to the range and vitality of this region’s writers. Haiti’s Dany Laferrière reports from the rubble of the 2010 earthquake. In an excerpt from his Prix Goncourt-shortlisted novel, Lyonel Trouillot sends a young woman in search of her family history. Cuba’s Jorge Olivera Castillo brings a nightmare to life. His countryman Omar Pérez performs a lively regguetón. From Martinique, Suzanne Dracius rides with Amazons, while Johan Moya Ramis struggles with an unruly body part. Évelyne Trouillot gives voice to a madwoman on a turbulent journey. Puerto Rico’s Juan Flores presents a tap-dancing sage, while José María Lima speaks from the grave. In poetry from the Dominican Republic, Frank Baez paints a self-portrait, José Mármol communes with nature, and Aurora Arias comes full circle. We trust you’ll enjoy this island tour.

There is No Theorem (A Regguetón)
By Omar Pérez
Translated from Spanish by Kristin Dykstra
all things in moderation and the moderation addles. more>>>

The Other Day After the Rain
By Johan Moya Ramis
Translated from Spanish by David Iaconangelo
He throws the arm with the machete around my shoulders, the edge of the blade scant centimeters from my neck. more>>>

By Frank Baez
Translated from Spanish by Hoyt Rogers
The neighbors dream of shooting me. more>>>

Alive or Dead
By Jorge Olivera Castillo
Translated from Spanish by Amanda Hopkinson
One of the dogs goes for him as if there were nothing between  them to block its way. more>>>

Deus ex Machina
By José Mármol
Translated from Spanish by Erica Mena
Throw the dice, Lord, your turn has inevitably come. more>>>

Invention of the Day
By José Mármol
Translated from Spanish by Erica Mena
thursday the man who invented death with his blood rested on a rock. more>>>

The Crane
By Juan Carlos Flores
Translated from Spanish by Kristin Dykstra
somewhat drunk he tap dances over the wet cobblestones more>>>

From the Grave of My Grave
By José María Lima
Translated from Spanish by Erica Mena
stalker-yesterday says slowly / my death has not begun more>>>

Bird’s Nest
By Aurora Arias
Translated from Spanish by Erica Mena
the honied bodies of whores / hold all the men. more>>>

The Best Spanish Language Blogs – and Where are the Ones By Women?

El Cultural has a list of the best literary blogs in Spanish. Some of them I know of and read with some frequency, others not so much but they all look good. Moleskine Literario is great for finding articles about the goings on in the Spanish language press. I’ve read La Nave de Los Locos, but I’m undecided as yet. MICRORRÉPLICAS is good, although I don’t read it enough, as is Antonio Muñoz Molina’s. I’m looking forward to reading some of these others. I would add El Sindeome Chejov  from the Spanish writer  Miguel Angel Munoz to the list. He has some great interviews on his site. And I like Sergi Bellver’s blog too.

There is one glaring deficiency to the site as Liburauk points out. There isn’t a single blog by a woman listed. It is a huge omission, one that seems rather typical. Liburauk has a good rant about the problem and a link to a counter list at Escritoras that corrects the omission. It all reminds me of the series of books listed in Letra Libres article Spain in a 100 Books, that had hardly any women in it. It prompted Laura Freixas to create a counter list of women authors. (You can see my notes on it here). The same happened in the Granta youngsters in Spanish which had about 22% women, which seems a little low.

Missing (una investigacion) by Alberto Fuguet – A Review

Missing (una investigacion) /Missing (My Uncle’s Story) (Spanish Edition)
Alberto Fuguet
Alfaguara, 2010 pg 386

Alberto Fuguet’s Missing (una investigacion) is one of the most interesting books I’ve read for sometime. In it Fuguet continues his explorations of modern life, the interchange of culture between Latin America and the United States, and the mixing of genres that have marked books like Shorts, and applies those elements to his own family, examining what made his Uncle Carlos disappear, to go missing. More than an immigrant narrative, more than a critique of American society, Missing is the story of a man never quite lives the American dream, but lives a life that is all too American.

Carlos Fuguet is one of three sons of a Chilean patriarch who moves the family to the United States in the early 1960s after his fortunes change and he his forced to drive a taxi. The father is a tough and proud man and the thought of driving a taxi is impossible to accept. He moves the family to the US even though that means moving his teenage boys to a country where they don’t speak much English. Carlos, who had always been the good student, the one expected to succeed, soon finds himself adrift. After high school he works as a busy boy in a hotel near LA’s airport and living in a dive in Hollywood since he can’t stand his parents. It is a lonely experience and in one of the more moving episodes he breaks down crying on the Santa Monica pier. A young American sailor comforts him and Carlos says at that moment he finally lost his fear, the fear that had come form being a stranger and alone. Yet that loneliness and living on the margin in dives will follow him throughout his life. Even in the early chapters it is obvious that Carlos finds the need to escape, to be away from his family, especially his father, at all costs.

To understand Carlos, one has to know more about his father. He is a cold man who holds his family at a distance. In a telling moment early on, when Alerto is relating his experiences with the man his grandfather says, “No me tratas de tu. No Soy tu padre…” (Don’t call me by you (familiar form), I’m not your father…). For a Spanish speaker it points to a grandfather who is cold, distant. There will be no grandfatherly indulgences. That coldness is only magnified when describing the relationship between the father and the sons. Carlos can never forgive him, nor his mother who even if she didn’t overtly side with him, always stayed with him and never defended Carlos. Later, when the Carlos’s father is dying and Carlos calls, his father says, “you are a disappointment, we never want to talk to you.” Even on his death bed the father refuses to forgive, and to make he worse he uses the we as if the rest of the family agreed with him. But it is not surprising as he is the father who said when Carlos wanted to buy a car,

tu no, no necesitas un auto,
todos necesitan un auto en los angeles, le dije,
tu no, no necesitas ir a ninuna parte,
aqui esta tu familia
quiero otras cosas que mi familia, le dije.
ah, esos amigos gringos tyuos, me dijo,
te van a arruinar

you don’t need a car,
everyone needs a car in los angeles, i told him,
you don’t need a car to go anywhere,
here is you family
i want other things than my family, i said.
ah, your gringo friends, he said,
they are going to ruin you

The argument is a typical father son argument, and shows a father that despite the successes he would have in the US, he never could see him self as an American. But the family problems run deeper than arguments between first and second generation. In an even stranger episode Alberto notes that Carlos is the second Carlos, the first one was a baby that didn’t live past 1 year. When Carlos was born he was named just like the first. One has the sense that Carlos could never quite live up to what the you Carlos might have.

From such beginnings, Carlos lives a life that is one series of disappointments. When he is 21 he marries a 17 year old and unsurprisingly the marriage lasts less than a year. Latter he marries a rich woman he meets in New Port Beach and while the relationship works, he begins to envy her money. In a fit of frustration he embezzles from a religious community so that he can take her to Vegas. He’s caught and goes to jail for the first of two stints in prison. It is from then on that he seems to live at the margins of American life, if not on the run from the police, then trying to survive the best he can. It is not an easy life and although there are moments of happiness and companionship, he lives alone moving from place to place. For awhile it seems to he has found a place in hotel management, but even that dissipates. At times he is the epitome of Americanness, pulling himself up from his bootstraps, becoming a hotel manager even though he had done two terms in jail for theft. But something always goes wrong and he is left on the margins of society. He is just unable to win.

Towards the end of the book, Alberto asks himself, for all the years he’s worked why doesn’t he have anything to show for it? After having a successful run with a hotel chain turing around troubled hotels he ends up in a run down hotel in Vegas living in a room that is filled with old fast food containers. The irony is he has been living one of the dark sides of the American dream, frittering away his money on silly things, always short on money. In one of the more telling episodes, during the 1980’s Carlos buys an expensive VCR for his father. It is an expensive piece of equipment that makes his father angry. Carlos had only good intentions in giving the VCR, but it shows complete emersion in consumer culture. Missing is not only the troubled story of a rootless immigrant, it is destructive longing for the American dream that is always one purchase away.

Missing, true to its investigative nature, is not a complete story, but one with lacuna and unanswered questions. Alberto uses different genres to approach the unanswerable from as many directions as possible. The bulk of the book is a long poem in Carlos’s voice which lets you see the story as Carlos sees it (and Alberto writes it down). He also includes personal memory, a third person history of his journey to his grandfather’s house, and the abortive first interviews he made with Carlos in a Denver Denny’s. The multiple points of view allow Alberto to comment of Carlos’s story and reveal a fuller picture of Carlos. Much of the family hatred for Carlos’s father comes from these scenes and it makes Carlos a more sympathetic character, one you can almost understand. What also comes is Alberto’s confusion, disappointment and melancholy as he learns Carlos’s life. For Alberto, Carlos had always been the cool uncle, the one who went his own way and disappeared. But that disappearing act was not as glamourous as it seemed from a distance.

One of Alberto’s skills as a writer is to use the detritus of everyday life in his works without it seeming cloying. He has always used product names in his books, but not heavy handedly like a Steven King. They are just something one comes across and occasionally mark certain societal transitions:

Estaba en Las Vegas, en contacto con el mundo, con una direccion que aparecia en Google Earth.

He was em Las Vegas, in contact with the world, with a an address that appeared in Google Earth.

In Missing his use of  this adds to the already strong element of Americanness. Not only does Carlos’s story resonate as an American story, but Alberto shows himself to be a keen observer of American life, something only someone who has lived in a country can show. It is that mix of observation and detail in telling Carlos’s story that makes the book an American story.

Alberto Fuguet considers this his most American book and he is right. Carlos is the other side of America, the one that is free to try and try again, yet it is a futile effort. It is the more than the story of an immigrant, but a story of the other America that lives at the edges of the American Dream.

You can read an excerpt of the book at the translator’s site.

Antonio Muñoz Molina Interview on 1001 Noches (Spanish Only)

Antonio Muñoz Molina was on 1001 Noches a month or two ago. He talks about his last book, La noche de los tiempos, a Spanish poet, his view of Spanish, and other things. It is a lengthy interview. It is also one of the strangest programs I’ve ever seen. They have a live piano player on stage and playing in the background. Then a couple of clowns give him a present after telling jokes. And 20 minutes in they cut to an interview with a different person, then but back. However, if you are interested in his work the video is worthwhile (and Canal Sur’s Flash player makes it easy to skip over uninteresting sections).

Portions of Granta Spanish Translation Online

Granta has placed writing from its best Spanish Language writers online (via New Pages). This is a good chance to sample some of the edition for free.

From the print edition, free to read online:


Short Story from Raúl Quinto

El sindrome chejov has a short story, Idoteca,  from Raul Quinto. I leave it to you to give an opinion about the story.

About the book:

Idioteca no es un libro de cuentos ni tampoco una colección de ensayos, ni siquiera una antología de largos poemas en prosa. No es nada de eso, aunque pudiera serlo todo. Idioteca es una búsqueda de respuestas donde al final acabamos encontrando interrogantes aún mayores. En sus páginas nos acercamos a misterios cómo cuál fue el verdadero origen del arte de la pintura o qué es lo que ocultan las grandes obras maestras bajo su superficie, se propone mirar un capítulo del Coyote y el Correcaminos o un partida de póker y averiguar qué es lo que esconden, que a lo mejor la realidad y el arte son una red invisible que nos teje y nos desteje sutilmente. En Idioteca el cine gore tiende su mano a la poesía de Rilke y la filosofía de Parménides justifica la pasión por el fútbol, aquí Goya y Sonic Youth comparten paleta, Yves Klein o Schumann desnudan sus rarezas, el arte se confunde con su sombra y amanece más lento. Es un libro distinto, un museo alucinado, un paseo por los sótanos paralelos de la historia de la cultura. Como muestra: la importancia de un limón.

The first paragraph:

Los problemas de la representación. Los límites del ojo y sus circuitos. Aquello a lo que llamamos realidad. Son cosas sobre las que se ha debatido en estas páginas largo y tendido, aunque todo indica que no hemos llegado a ninguna conclusión. Tampoco creo que lo vayamos a hacer ahora, la verdad. Pero sigamos abriendo puertas y afilando escalpelos, simplemente por el placer inigualable de diseccionar el cadáver de un animal imposible. Al fin y al cabo para eso hemos venido.

Mario Vargas Llosa on Roberto Bolaño – Video

Moleskin Literario tipped me off to this interview with Vargas Llosa talking about Bolaño. It is interesting to see his take on Bolaño who he likes quite a bit, especially the Savage Detectives and Nazi Literature in America. If you are a Bolaño afficinado you probably know everything he talks about. However, he said enough to get me over my reservations about Nazi Literature in America one of these days. The video is in Spanish with Italian subtitles.