Friday, February 24, 2006

Drown by Junot Diaz

Junot Díaz's Drown aims to define the Latin-American hombre and the forces that create him, whether in the Dominican Republic or New Jersey. Simple relationships are examined as young men accompany their mothers to the mall, pine for their missing girlfriends, or discuss the unspoken rules between older and younger brothers.
Although Díaz has spent most of his life in the States, his text reveals a constant state of translation - between languages and cultures - often dropping Spanish slang for which there is no true English equivalent. The author juxtaposes the Third World with the Northeastern Corridor, as adolescents attempt to filter their new environment through their outmoded understanding of life as it had been, constantly comparing new experiences from one place to another. But beware: these are not sugarcoated, coming-of-age tales. Drown takes us on a tour through crack dens with lost youth and leaves us in a living room with a child as his father disappears upstairs with a mistress.

You can find the review here

Buy Drown at

The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro by Antonio Tabucchi

Headless bodies are a great opener for a novel. And they're even better when cops fake crucial details -- like the cigarette burns on the flesh. Some young reporter is just the type to identify the body and then the killer, who might be a fretful cop, a former war hero with some weird nickname (the Green Cricket will do nicely), who cut up a kid who interfered with his drug operation. There's nothing wrong, either, with introducing a grand lawyer doing penance for his family's abuse of power or a matron who was once the town's favorite barmaid and still hears the occasional confession. In an ordinary thriller, you might take all these characters at face value.

But Antonio Tabucchi doesn't write that sort of thriller. He's an Italian academic, theoretician and translator, a devotee of Portuguese literature. He's fascinated by the region of Portugal in which his story is set -- Oporto, a northern town of fishwives, the newly rich, corpse hunters, gypsies and memories. He also follows the crime reports in Portugal; this book is close enough to a true scandal of the 90's to have caused a sensation when the killer confessed after the book was published in Italy. But the story is also being told by a writer who seems almost nostalgic for the days when Portugal had a dictator and an infamous secret police -- a time when everyone saw the links between thuggish cops and the nature of the state.

So in "The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro," the body, the journalist, the cop, the lawyer and the barmaid operate in the service of a very complicated sensibility -- literary, philosophical, political. The reporter is simply fed the story; even the crooked cop talks to him. The drug dens are as safe and velvet-curtained as anything in Raymond Chandler. Even the big trial scene is a lesson in moral philosophy. All the mechanisms of a thriller are pushed onstage and left with nothing much to do.

Yet this is still a vivid book, for the oddest of reasons. For a start, Tabucchi keeps a proper notebook: he writes with all his senses. Unusually, he also sees the high economic value of a cliche: his grand old lawyer, known as Loton, is a dead ringer for Charles Laughton playing a grand old lawyer. Once we have that detail, we have the second-hand charm of remembered performances to bring alive Loton's philosophic rumblings.

You can find the review here

Buy The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro at

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

Pseudonymous writing is not rare in literature or philosophy (Kierkegaard provides a celebrated instance). 'Heteronyms', as Pessoa called and defined them, are something different and exceedingly strange. For each of his 'voices', Pessoa conceived a highly distinctive poetic idiom and technique, a complex biography, a context of literary influence and polemics and, most arrestingly of all, subtle interrelations and reciprocities of awareness. Octavio Paz defines Caeiro as 'everything that Pessoa is not and more'.

He is a man magnificently at home in nature, a virtuoso of pre-Christian innocence, almost a Portuguese teacher of Zen. Reis is a stoic Horatian, a pagan believer in fate, a player with classical myths less original than Caeiro, but more representative of modern symbolism. De Campos emerges as a Whitmanesque futurist, a dreamer in drunkenness, the Dionysian singer of what is oceanic and windswept in Lisbon. None of this triad resembles the metaphysical solitude, the sense of being an occultist medium which characterise Pessoa's 'own' intimate verse.

Other masks followed, notably one 'Bernardo Soares'. At some complex generative level, Pessoa's genius as a polyglot underlies, is mirrored by, his self-dispersal into diverse and contrasting personae. He spent nine of his childhood years in Durban. His first writings were in English with a South African tincture. He turned to Portuguese only in 1910 (there are significant analogies with Borges).

Pessoa earned his living as a translator. His legacy, enormous and in large part unpublished, comports philosophy, literary criticism, linguistic theory, writings on politics in Portuguese, English and French. Like Borges, Beckett or Nabokov, Pessoa shows up the naive, malignant falsehood still current in certain Fenland English faculties whereby only the monoglot and native speaker is inward with style and literary insight.

The fragmentary, the incomplete is of the essence of Pessoa's spirit. The very kaleidoscope of voices within him, the breadth of his culture, the catholicity of his ironic sympathies - wonderfully echoed in Saramago's great novel about Ricardo Reis - inhibited the monumentalities, the self-satisfaction of completion. Hence the vast torso of Pessoa's Faust on which he laboured much of his life. Hence the fragmentary condition of The Book of Disquiet which contains material that predates 1913 and which Pessoa left open-ended at his death. As Adorno famously said, the finished work is, in our times and climate of anguish, a lie.

It was to Bernardo Soares that Pessoa ascribed his The Book of Disquiet, first made available in English in a briefer version by Richard Zenith in 1991. The translation is at once penetrating and delicately observant of Pessoa's astute melancholy. What is this Livro do Desassossego? Neither 'commonplace book', nor 'sketchbook', nor 'florilegium' will do. Imagine a fusion of Coleridge's notebooks and marginalia, of Valery's philosophic diary and of Robert Musil's voluminous journal. Yet even such a hybrid does not correspond to the singularity of Pessoa's chronicle. Nor do we know what parts thereof, if any, he ever intended for publication in some revised format.

You can find the review here

Buy The Book of Disquiet at

Carlos Ruiz Zafon shortlisted for the British Book Awards

Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón is shortlisted for the British Book Awards with is book The Shadow of the Wind, facing John Banville, Alan Bennett and Kazuo Ishiguro for author of the year.

You can find the article here

Thursday, February 23, 2006

27th International Book Fair - Mexico City

Today marks the opening of the 27th International Book Fair at the Palacio de Minería in Mexico City´s Historic Center. Doors will open to the public today at 11 a.m. Books will be available for purchase through March 5.

Last year´s book fair drew over 113,000 visitors. In anticipation of big crowds, event organizers have doubled the number of ticket booths in Plaza Tolsá across the street from the Palacio de Minería in an effort to avoid long entrance lines.

The fair will boast a record number of over 750 cultural events including lectures, round tables, book presentations, readings, concerts, videos, and expositions.

As Chiapas is the state of honor at this year´s fair, there will be a room of books dedicated to the state with exhibits on photography and coffee. There will also be over 30 cultural events related to Chiapas, including a marimba concert.

Ferrando also said the fair will include special events to commemorate the anniversaries - specifically the births and deaths - of famous authors and historic personalities including: Wolfgang Mozart, Sigmund Freud, Benito Juárez, Jaime Sabines, André Breton, Juan Rulfo, and Jorge Luis Borges, among others.

The book fair, which is the oldest in Mexico, has long been linked to the Palacio de Minería building which was built in the late 18th century. The historic building hosted its first book fair as early as 1924, and the International Book Fair in its current form has been held there annually since 1980.

You can find the article here

Guillermo Arriaga - The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Guillermo Arriaga is the Mexican novelist turned screenwriter who gained international attention with his script for Alejandro González Iñárritu's Amores Perros (2000). Reportedly, Jones admired that film and invited Arriaga to visit his West Texas ranch. The two men became friends, one thing led to another, and the next thing you know, Arriaga had been commissioned to write a script that's not only a tribute to an American-Mexican friendship somewhat like his and Jones', but that also stems from an incident that had stuck in Tommy Lee's craw.
Arriaga's screenplay for Amores Perros contained a great deal of compelling surface energy and grit along with a tricky, Tarantino-like use of scrambled chronology, a device that further devolved into annoying mannerism in his and Iñárritu's next film, 21 Grams (where the narrative logic seemed to be: If you have a boring story, try jumbling the time sequence so thoroughly that the audience will be so busy figuring out what's going on that it won't have the chance to realize how banal the material is). Three Burials starts out in much the same mode, opening with the discovery of Estrada's corpse, then hopscotching backward in time to sketch the prior relationships of the main characters, and forward to follow Perkins' initial reactions to the crime. Thankfully, once the rancher sets off on his morbid odyssey, the time-shifting ceases and we're treated to a fairly straightforward story.

You can find the full review here

The first half of the movie is mostly shrewd, laconic character study. The script by Guillermo Arriaga, the great Mexican writer responsible for "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams," lets the characters collide into one another: Pete, nearly weeping with unmanly frustration; Mike, bored and frightened, with "a face like a white rat," in the words of one border jumper unlucky enough to come up against him; Mike's wife, Lou Ann (January Jones), young and blond and not quite as empty as everyone assumes; Rachel, whom Leo plays as a sort of evolved floozy; Melquiades, who haunts those who meet him even while he's alive.
The second half of the movie crosses into Mexico and metaphor. Having pledged to return Melquiades's body to the tiny village from which he came, Pete pistol-whips Mike into coming along for the ride, and the byplay between the cowboy, his handcuffed captive, and the rapidly decaying corpse is grimly comic.

You can find the full review here

Written Lives by Javier Marias

Written Lives by Javier MariasTwo reviews of Javier Marías' Written Lives.

For many of the 25 writers Javier Marías includes in this blissful little book of biographical sketches, nothing in their lives became them like the leaving of it. Robert Louis Stevenson, on returning from the cellar with his customary bottle of Burgundy, enquired of his wife, 'Do I look strange?', before collapsing from a brain haemorrhage.

His friend Henry James was rather more rehearsed, hearing a voice not his own announce: 'So it has come at last - the Distinguished Thing!', which appears to have been a polished rewrite of Laurence Sterne's 'Now it is come', before putting up his hand as if to ward off a blow.

Joseph Conrad was heard by his wife to shout, 'Here...!', before falling off his chair. Oscar Wilde called for champagne on his deathbed, if only as a cue for his final bon mot: 'I am dying beyond my means.'

The prize for epitaphs must go to Lowry: 'Malcolm Lowry/Late of Bowery/ His prose was flowery/ And often glowery/ He lived, nightly, and drank, daily,/ And died playing the ukelele.' As for the Japanese writer, Yukio Mishima, his death was 'so spectacular that it has almost succeeded in obliterating the many other stupid things he did in his life...' (For full details of Mishima's last breath, buy the book.)

The ludicrous Mishima aside, it becomes quickly apparent from these pages that the reason most writers choose to write rather than, say, work in an office, school or hospital is because they are incapable of leading anything like a life which might involve moments of sobriety, modesty or basic politeness.

Taking for granted a state of permanent drunkenness, let's have a look at modesty. Most of the writers described in these thumbnail sketches believed absolutely in their genius. 'Kipling is by far the most promising young man who has appeared since - ahem - I appeared,' wrote Stevenson to Henry James.

You can find the full review here

Not that I don't revere the ground that Javier Marías walks on, but I do think him distinctly lucky to have been able to persuade anyone to publish this volume. Of course, on the continent there is no kind of interest in formal biography to match our own. In Spain, readers might welcome a volume of short biographical essays. Here, despite Marías's occasional wit and elegance, I can't see who would see the point.

What we have are 26 essays which, on the whole, run through a few famous stories about writers: the one about Nora not reading Ulysses; the one about Verlaine shooting Rimbaud in Brussels; Emily Brontë's comb; Nabokov's butterfly net.

Some of these stories just aren't to be trusted. In the chapter on Henry James, two long-discredited stories from the notoriously unreliable memoirs of Ford Madox Ford are included: the one about his being entangled in his dachshund's lead (too good to be true); the other about being received by Flaubert in a dressing gown and always "hating him" thereafter. That last story was disproved 60 years ago by Simon Nowell-Smith.

This book would certainly have been improved by some more extensive reading. It is slightly shocking to read an essay on Thomas Mann, for instance, which reveals not just so little sympathy with the novelist, but apparently so little acquaintance with his novels; it seems to Marías a telling point to claim that there is only one Spaniard who has ever read Joseph and His Brothers from beginning to end. I admit that is fairly amusing, but probably more amusing about Spanish readers than about Mann. And someone who says that Mann's talking about his own irony displayed "a rather extraordinary belief " can't, I think, have read The Magic Mountain with much attention.

A lot of this comes from a distinctly peculiar insistence on gathering information about writers only from their own writings, and from the writings of their contemporaries. In many cases, these are not to be trusted, as with Ford Madox Ford's often fantastical reminiscences. Where Marías has backed his reading up with a good biography - the essay on Lampedusa draws heavily on David Gilmour's classic biography - the result is noticeably better.

You can find the full review here

Buy Written Lives at

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Alberto Fuguet - Chile

Alberto Fuguet, born in Santiago de Chile in 1964, he spent his early childhood in California. He is one of the most prominent Latin American authors of his generation and one of the leaders of the literary movement known as McOndo, which proclaims the end of magical realism. Besides his work as an author and playwriter, Fuguet has been a film critic and a police reporter. He lives in Santiago de Chile.

Related Posts:
The McOndo Movement
Interview with Alberto Fuguet
Shorts by Alberto Fuguet
The Movies Of My Life by Alberto Fuguet

1989 - Sobredosis
1990 - La azarosa y sobreexpuesta vida de Enrique Alekán
1991 - Mala Onda - Bad Vibes
1994 - Por favor, rebobinar
1993 - Cuentos con Walkman
1996 - McOndo
1996 - Tinta Roja
2000 - Se habla español
2003 - Las Peliculas de Mi Vida - The Movies of My Life
2005 - Cortos - Shorts

Other Links:
  • Alberto Fuguet's Weblog

  • Las Peliculas de Mi Vida Weblog
  • Tomas Eloy Martinez' The Queen's Flight published in Romania

    Carturesti Books will host tomorrow the launch of a book by Argentinean writer Tomas Eloy Martinez. "The Queen's Flight" is a novel about desire and power, the story of which takes place on the background of a political reality dominated by corruption and describes the love story between the manager of a newspaper in Buenos Aires and his protegee, a young and talented journalist.
    According to the editors, the novel focuses on the game of obsession, which mixes sexuality and domination, a mystery about the mechanisms of political and mass media power, constructing a world in which corruption has infiltrated all domains.
    Tomas Eloy Martinez, 72, is considered a classic Argentinean writer because of his two books "Novela de Peron," written in 1985, and "Santa Evita," written in 1995, which has been translated in over 30 countries. Besides novels, Eloy Martinez has also written short stories, essays and film scripts.

    You can find the article here

    Buy El vuelo de la reina at

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    The Blind Rider by Juan Goytisolo

    Among many accolades, Carlos Fuentes calls Juan Goytisolo "Spain's greatest living novelist"-just but curious praise for a writer who has not lived in Spain for 50 years and continues to be its most scabrous critic. Born Barcelona in 1931, Goytisolo’s early novels, including Marks of Identity, were banned by the Franco regime. Driven into exile, Goytisolo lived in Paris from 1956 to 1996, when his wife, the writer Monique Lange, died. Since then he has lived in Marrakesh where he continues to be actively engaged in political and humanitarian projects and write trenchant essays and articles supporting these causes. The Blind Rider marks his10th novel, which he claims will be his last.

    Goytisolo has always brought autobiographical elements into his fiction, and The Blind Rider clearly belongs to the genre "fictional memoir," where personal reminiscences of past and present events play a large part. The heart of these memories is expressed through the unnamed narrator, a widower, as he struggles with the anguishing grief that he feels over his loss.

    The novel is structured loosely into five parts; the opening pages are an unrelenting, harshly unsentimental and stark collection of scenes and vignettes of a septuagenarian's life as he looks back, where images of death, both past and impending, prevail. With the loss of his wife everything crumbles; he loses his bearings. In despair, he realizes that "Time was a blind rider nobody could unsaddle," and that "His yesterdays were a series of eclipsed scenarios." These ironic themes reverberate throughout the novel.

    You can find the review here

    An Interview with Eloy Urroz

    Theodore McDermott: The Obstacles is, in a lot of ways, a coming-of-age story, but it’s also an incredibly ambitious-and achieved-book. How old were you when you wrote it?

    Eloy Urroz: I started The Obstacles after finishing Las leyes que el amor elige (1993), my first novel. So I wrote it between ‘93 and ‘95, more or less, while I was getting my BA at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). It was first published in 1996 in Mexico and then reissued in Spain in 2002. For the second edition, I polished it a lot. I guess I was 26 or 27 years old when I first wrote it.

    And yes, in a lot of ways it is a coming-of-age story. It resembles, for example, Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, in that the search for love is a central theme, and-again like Flaubert’s novel, as well as Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man-one of the central rites of passage a protagonist undergoes concerns his love for a prostitute who becomes, through that love, the object of a desperate desire. The characters Federico Ross, Ricardo Urrutia, and Elias are all seeking love and not getting it.

    TM: I ask because while the book is very close to youth thematically, it’s very mature formally and stylistically. Was this deliberate? An attempt to complicate youth and the concept of "coming-of-age," things that are often treated quite straightforwardly in literature?

    EU: I don’t think it was deliberate in that sense. I’ve always loved Vargas Llosa’s The Green House. To me, it’s the best Latin American novel of the twentieth century. I’ve always been captivated by its complex structure. What I wanted in The Obstacles was to have different narrators mixing up their stories, complicating the novel’s narrative. I wanted there to be different voices, and, if possible, different styles for each voice. So each one has a different style, more or less. In total there are five narrators if you look carefully: four are young men (Ricardo, Elias, Solon, and Federico Ross), and then there’s the old priest, August Roldan.

    Don Quixote’s intertwined stories and the many narrators who interrupt the main story influenced me greatly. Stylistically, Onetti was very important for me; formally, Cortázar’s Hopscotch and Cabrera Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers pushed me toward that kind of innovation. But, above anything else, Don Quixote and The Green House stand out.

    You can find the interview here

    Interview With Chilean Filmmaker Raúl Ruiz

    Question: Where do you imagine your tomb?
    Raúl Ruiz: In a satellite, circling the earth.

    Q: What do you recall of the military junta?
    RR: The sound of a helicopter. It was permanent sound. I always think of the scene when Henry Hill is being chased by the police in the Marin Scorsese movie "Goodfellas."

    Q: What was your relationship with Nicanor Parra like? Are you familiar with all of his work?
    RR: Yes, I have read everything. At one time I was very good friends with him because he came every Sunday, sometimes every day, to have breakfast at my mother’s house. She was from Mulchén and he was from Chillán, so they had a lot in common.

    Q: Is Nicanor a good candidate for the Nobel Prize?
    RR: What does the Nobel Prize matter? No one even remembers the names of the majority of past winners. He has had recognition and he deserves more. But I am against prizes in general, and I am allowed to be against them since I have won some. I don’t know. To believe in prizes is to believe in the importance of the number 10. Prizes let people compare, but an artist is characterized by not being comparable.

    You can find the article here

    Gabriela Mistral

    Gabriela Mistral


    Of all the poets who have sprung from the dramatic Chilean landscape, few have achieved the worldwide recognition of the country’s first Nobel laureate, Gabriela Mistral. In spite of all the honors given her work, the person behind the poetry remains distant and somewhat mysterious to the majority of the Chileans who grow up reading her work in school. Verses such as "Todas Ibamos a Ser Reinas" (We Were All Going to be Queens) and "Dame la Mano" (Give Me Your Hand) are still widely enjoyed, but few people are aware of the more complex side of the poet’s personality, or of the difficult relationship she had with her country of birth.

    Born Lucila Godoy in 1889 in the rural community of Vicuña, her early school days were marked by an episode of public humiliation which resulted in a group of classmates demeaning and ostracizing her. Teachers advised Mistral’s mother that she was mentally incapacitated and should be removed from school. Despite this advice, however, she was able to continue her education and began working as a teacher’s assistant at the age of 15.

    She began writing under the pseudonym of Gabriela Mistral and was awarded the highest distinction in the Santiago Floral Games of 1914. Working as a school director in Temuco during the 1920s, she applauded the first, shy verses of a boy named Pablo Neruda.

    Biographer Volodia Teitelboim (National Literature Prize 2002) speaks of her passion on the subject of the condition of women in Chile and her belief that the most effective and liberating weapon is education. Because of Mistral’s outspokenness on subjects such as the stratification of social classes and the stigmatization of single mothers, together with her provincial background, she clashed with local intellectual circles, making her an unpopular figure while she lived in Chile.

    You can find the article here

    Monday, February 20, 2006

    The Eagle’s Throne by Carlos Fuentes

    The Eagle’s Throne by Carlos FuentesThe year is 2020. The setting is a Mexico bubbling with corruption, injustice and social unrest. President Lorenzo Teran has just demanded that the U.S. pay more for Mexican oil and withdraw its troops from Colombia.

    So begins Carlos Fuentes's novel, "The Eagle's Throne".

    The day after Teran's tirade, the "gringos," now led by a woman president, retaliate by sabotaging a satellite system that controls Mexico's communications, robbing the country of phone calls, e-mail and faxes, and driving it back to pen and paper.

    The politicians fear to put anything on record. Yet communication is essential if they are to exploit a wave of protests, including a student sit-in, a strike and a march by peasants. The novel consists of letters among the president's friends and foes. We hear from the finance minister, two creepy generals and a shady former president known as ``The Old Man.''

    Fuentes, 77, handles this material with a skill born of experience. In addition to being Mexico's leading man of letters, he once served his country as a diplomat.

    You can find the review here

    Buy The Eagle's Throne at

    Interview with Francisco Goldman

    Interview with the Author of The Divine Husband
    Francisco Goldman's heritage stems from his American Jewish father and his Guatemalan mother. He was raised in Eastern Massachusetts and began his writing career covering the Central American wars in the 1980s, first for Esquire and later for Harper's. He is the author of three novels, The Long Night of White Chickens, The Ordinary Seaman and recently The Divine Husband (September 2004). His first two novels have won numerous awards, and Goldman has received a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as other accolades. He teaches at Trinity College, and his writings have appeared in major publications too numerous to list. Francisco Goldman divides his time between Brooklyn and Mexico City.

    The Divine Husband, as you will learn in the conversation that follows, was inspired by the legendary Cuban cultural patriarch Jose Martí's famous love poem, "La Niña de Guatemala." Martí spent only a little more than a year in Guatemala, where much of this novel takes place. But that time affected his life and most certainly affected Guatemala. Goldman's rich tapestry of history and fiction is a splendid tale with vital and spirited characters: Maria de las Nieves, whose relationship with Great Man Martí as well as the paternity of her child are the engine of this narrative; Mack Chinchilla, described as a Yankee-Indio entrepreneur who courts Maria; Wellesley Bludyar, a British diplomat and an another of Maria’s suitors; and Don Jose, the Jewish umbrella repairman, her closest confidante and The Mysterious Muchacho.

    Here is novelist Claire Messud's take on The Divine Husband: "For all its considerable length, tightly compacted. No paragraph is extraneous, or ignorable, as the account--occasionally breathless--doubles back on itself, takes up and reworks strands like a Bach invention, all the while providing distinct narrative tenors for its three central characters, María, and Martí, and Mack. The book offers frames within frames, tour-de-force descriptions, grand set pieces. It is replete with idiosyncratic details and strange historical facts. The prose slides from lyrical to practical, the diction from august to mundane. Goldman echoes Flaubert, Garciá Marquez, and even DeLillo, as well as biography and newspaper journalism, but he remains his own literary master, and in this book succeeds in making the novel new. He has produced a work of ambition, seriousness, passion, and seething life. The Divine Husband confirms Goldman as one of America's most significant living novelists, a voice of audacity and gravitas that serves as inspiration to writers and readers alike."

    You can find the article here

    The Crack Manifesto

    In July 1996, five Mexican novelists (Pedro Ángel Palou, Eloy Urroz, Ignacio Padilla, Ricardo Chávez Castañeda and Jorge Volpi) published "The Crack Manifesto" deciding to break the tradition of Magical Realism and return to, what they called an "aesthetic of dislocation", multiplicity and more or less deterministic chaos.

    You can find these five texts: The Crack’s Fair by Pedro Ángel Palou, Crack’s Genealogy by Eloy Urroz, A Pocket Septet by Ignacio Padilla, The Risks of Form: The Structure of the Crack Novels by Ricardo Chávez Castañeda and Where Was the End of the World? by Jorge Volpi here

    Carlos Fuentes in South Africa III

    Fuentes endorsed the writer's right to militate when his own come into power. "The writer must be the voice that rankles."

    He spoke of the silent, insidious violence of television and the media. Writing literature offered other possibilities to human beings, he said.

    Fuentes said he grew up listening to radio in Washington in the 1930s. "When Joe Louis beat Max Schmeling, I imagined the fight through what the radio announcer said. Baseball was also an aural experience. We no longer listen, we see; we do not care about the bombing we see on television. It robs us of our capacity to judge our thinking; knowledge is more important than information, but knowledge requires us to be well informed."

    Napoleon invaded Russia in 1810, said Fuentes. Then Tolstoy came along and wrote War and Peace. If Tolstoy had not existed, the Napoleonic invasion of Russia would not be part of our reality today.

    War and Peace is a deep examination of the psychological phenomenon of war and how it related to power, Gordimer said. It relates also to the present psychology of war:

    "The idea that God must help us because we are on the right side; the people on the other side are also calling their gods, which brings the question of who the gods should answer.

    "Can you think of a time when writers have been a force in changing policies?" she asked. "Camus, Sartre, De Beauvoir wrote about France's withdrawal from Algeria, but did they have any influence on ordinary people?" And in South Africa, she asked, did writers have any influence on the mass of people?

    We were left with this: illiteracy and semi-literacy, shockingly prevalent, continue to deprive the masses of the stimulation provided by these and other writers, and to deprive these writers of readers.

    You can find the article here

    Find Carlos Fuentes' Books at

    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

    In my present state of what may be termed retirement, increasingly have I sought solace in books. Thus it was that my hand fell on a small volume titled The Alchemist by the Brazilian, Paulo Coelho. It failed to remind me where and when it had been acquired, facts that usually are routinely recorded before a book is shelved.

    For two days, unable to put it down, I fell under the charm of this strange little book (just over 170 pages), whose back cover blurb reads: "Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers forever."

    A rather too dramatic pronouncement, one might say, for, when I thought about it, I had to admit that it had not so much changed my life as it had convinced me that the worth of a work of fiction need not be judged purely on its large size, resulting from the writer's desire to hold the reader enraptured through a depiction of the lives of three or four generations; nor on the many action events chasing others through the pages; and certainly not on the appeal of torrid love scenes, nor the clever clues as to who had committed the murder(s).

    As a matter of fact, although ostensibly a work of fiction, being (to return to the blurb) the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who dreams of travelling the world in search of a treasure, the book seemed to me to fit quite neatly into the category of philosophical or even motivational musings. With a final lean on the blurb (for now), this novel is about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life's path and following our dreams.

    Of the people the boy meets on his journey, the first, apart from his own father who advised him to become a shepherd if he desired to travel, is an old man whom his first instinct is to ignore, so caught up is he in his latest book. "The boy was tempted to be rude, and move to another bench, but his father had taught him to be respectful of the elderly".

    To his huge surprise, after only a cursory glance at the cover (not the blurb) the old man pronounces the book important, if irritating. "It's a book that says the same thing almost all the books in the world say", continued the old man. "It describes people's inability to choose their own destinies. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world's greatest lie."

    You can find the review here

    Buy The Alchemist at

    The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - Review

    Once it crosses the Rio Grande, the movie shifts into more overtly allegorical territory without losing its bearings. When Pete and Mike encounter an old blind man living in the middle of nowhere, the scene recalls a host of filmic precedents, including "Frankenstein" and Hitchcock's "Saboteur." Under a baking sun, in a stunning variety of scenery captured, splendidly, by cinematographer Chris Menges, the rancher/border cop odd couple trade murderous glances, not so different from Bogart, Huston and Holt in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

    More sparingly than he did in the compelling "Amores Perros" or the pointlessly fractured "21 Grams," screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga juggles flashbacks with present-tense action, particularly in this film's early stretches. Some of it may be confusing in terms of chronology. Other notions strain credulity. At one point Estrada and Norton's restless, unloved wife, Lou Ann, meet for a motel room assignation, while Pete and waitress Rachel enjoy each other a few rooms away; later, Norton comes face-to-face with another undocumented Mexican woman he brutalized during a sweep. Yet the acting is so good throughout, and Texas native Jones does such a sharp, unforced job of directing a story dear to his geographical and spiritual heart, "The Three Burials" is the rare film that gets better and better as it goes.

    In essence it's a story about two guys hauling a rapidly decaying dead man across a line on the map--"Bring Me the Corpse of Melquiades Estrada." But as Arriaga and Jones prove, a lot happens on either side of any divide.

    You can find the review here

    Paradise Travel by Jorge Franco

    Paradise Travel by Jorge FrancoJorge Franco is a Colombian novelist on the rise, a leader of what is being called the "McOndo" school of fiction, a group of writers seemingly intent on upending the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez. (McOndo is a play on words that fuses García Márquez's fictional town of Macondo with McDonalds -- denoting a gritty, noirish writing style that one critic has labeled "magical realism dragged into Burger King.")

    "Paradise Travel" (Franco's fourth novel and his second to be published in the United States) tells the story of Marlon Cruz, a guileless young Colombian dragged into the world of illegal border crossings by his troubled and wilful girlfriend, Reina. The two live in Medellín, where Marlon entertains no higher ambitions than hanging onto his girlfriend and gaining admission to the university (a hope rendered virtually futile by his lack of connections).
    (...)The narration cuts continually from past to present, with the tale of the couple's humiliating voyage to New York twinned with the story of Marlon fighting for survival in the underbelly of New York. At the same time, the novel's emotional center neatly fuses the drama of Marlon's struggle for life with his absurd drive (absurd, that is, to everyone but him) to find Reina.

    It's all quite slickly done and (warning!) readers of this slim volume will most likely refuse to put it down until they discover where fate will lead Marlon.

    However, despite its readability and Franco's obvious skill as a narrator, there is something disappointingly empty at the core of this tale. For one thing, it's hard to sustain belief in Marlon's naive passion for Reina throughout the course of his harsh adventures. (The boy gets treated to a crash course in Life on the Mean Streets 101 and yet learns almost nothing about who can or cannot be trusted?)

    But it's not just Reina who fails to convince. All the women in this story fall a bit too neatly into basic categories (sexy saint, sexy sinner, unsexy saint, unsexy sinner, etc.) and the scenes that include them too quickly ring hollow. Unfortunately, that includes the encounters with the restaurant owner's wife who is Marlon's savior in New York - interjecting an awkward and not terribly credible scenario into a plot that up until then had been spinning like a top.

    And then, a second warning about this novel: There's sensitivity in the writing, but this is not a story for the sensitive. The novel is, after all, billed as urban realism and there is some ugly language and gritty detail to match. (If you don't really want to have to think too much about what it would be like to clean toilets in a restaurant, don't read this book.)

    However, for readers who want to dip into the dark urban currents emerging in Latin literature as well as to enjoy a survival tale (and the love story here is a survival tale as well), this tight and skillfully plotted novel would be the book.

    You can find the review here

    Buy Paradise Travel at

    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    Written Lives by Javier Marias

    Written Lives by Javier MariasJavier Marias, one of Spain’s leading novelists, turns his hand to literary mini-biography in these short sketches of writers’ lives, supposedly written "as if they were fictional characters, which may well be how all writers, whether famous or obscure, would secretly like to be treated". In practice his method is more conventional. While admitting to having "embellished" certain stories from his subjects’ lives, he assures us that nothing is invented. The result shuns the equivocations of the more careful sort of biographer without straying into outright fantasy.

    The line-up of writers is mainly Anglophone, and includes several whom Marias has worked on as a translator, such as Laurence Sterne, Robert Louis Stevenson and Vladimir Nabokov. Each is approached via a particular viewpoint or characteristic: Joseph Conrad on land, for instance, or Thomas Mann and suffering.

    You can find the full review here

    Buy Written Lives at

    Javier Bardem is set to star in the adaptation of Love in the Time of Cholera

    Javier Bardem is set to star in the big-screen adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's much-loved book, Love in the Time of Cholera.

    Bardem, a Spanish actor, starred in The Sea Inside, which won best foreign language film at the 2005 Oscars. He also received an Oscar nomination for Before Night Falls, in which he played Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas. Bardem played in The Dancer Upstairs and just completed filming Goya's Ghosts, directed by Milos Forman.

    Garcia Marquez had long resisted allowing a film version of Love in the Time of Cholera, published in 1985. The book was an international bestseller, but he feared a big-budget English adaptation of his novel would ruin its spirit.

    He was pursued for two years by Scott Steindorff of Stone Village Entertainment, before they reached an agreement in 2004. The Nobel-prize winning novelist lives in Mexico and is now battling cancer.

    Mike Newell, who helmed romances such as Four Weddings and A Funeral and Mona Lisa Smile, is directing Cholera with a script by Ronald Harwood, who wrote The Pianist.

    You can find the full article here

    The Eagle’s Throne by Carlos Fuentes

    The Eagle’s Throne by Carlos FuentesCarlos Fuentes is Mexico’s pre-eminent intellectual. When a Harvard academic rails against Hispanic immigrants, Fuentes trashes him in the international press. When the Spanish language is in need of an apologist, he steps up to the lectern. Now Fuentes, who dabbled in speculative fiction for his novel Christopher Unborn, reprises his role as soothsayer to offer a glimpse of Mexican democracy’s darkly comic future.

    The Eagle’s Throne is set in 2020, as Mexico enters the run-up to a presidential election. As politicians grapple with the usual mix of student revolts, workers’ strikes and peasant unrest they must face a greater crisis. In retaliation for Mexican opposition to armed intervention in Colombia by the US, the US president (one Condoleezza Rice) has cut off Mexico from all forms of electronic communication - "the globalised world’s equivalent of a desert".

    Forced to overcome a distrust of putting thoughts on paper, the Mexican ruling class is reduced to writing letters. The model is Choderlos de Laclos’s epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses. An 18th-century template sits uneasily with 21st century conditions - but let us suspend our disbelief for the sake of entertainment and read on.

    In a succession of letters we are introduced to the colourful dramatis personae: Maria del Rosario Galvan, a scheming beauty with an appetite for king-making; young Nicolas Valdivia, a handsome, French-schooled political debutant; Bernal Herrera, the reliable Interior Secretary; Xavier "Seneca" Zaragoza, the President’s trusted adviser; Defence Secretary Mondragon von Bertrab, who swears "loyalty to the President, as long as the President remains loyal to the institutions of the Republic"; the stolidly brutal police chief Cicero Arruza; the President’s fawning, lecherous Chief of Staff, Tacito de la Canal; a wizened former president who speaks in riddles and harbours a secret that could undo all the players’ expectations.

    "With me everything is political, even sex," Maria del Rosario warns Nicolas early on. This cues a deluge of references to Clausewitz, Lampedusa, Hitler, Stendhal, Dumas, Humboldt, Dickens, Conrad, Shakespeare, Kafka and other worthies. Fuentes does not wear his considerable erudition lightly. His characters have mastered Machiavelli, are au fait with French philosophes, know the classics by heart.

    As they lock antlers with each other, they unburden themselves in letters that distil Mexican politics’ conventional wisdom. Platitudes are plentiful ("to be a politician you must be a hypocrite"), as are local coinages: "If you don’t deceive you don’t achieve," or "He who isn’t living off the public purse is living in error."

    The most noteworthy observations come from the pen of plotting former presidents. "Before becoming president, a man has to suffer and learn. If not, he’ll suffer and learn during his presidency, at the country’s expense," a former occupant of the presidential chair - the Eagle’s Throne of the title - warns the incumbent.

    You can find the review here

    Buy The Eagle's Throne at

    Carlos Fuentes in South Africa II

    Delivering the second Nadine Gordimer lecture at Wits University and extending the transatlantic dialogue programme at Brown University -- where Fuentes is professor at large -- are key to that hemispherical interchange. "Transatlantic culture must include South Africa," he says. "So this is a north-south visit, or south-north, if you prefer."

    Trim, deploying vigorous hand gestures and mobile eyebrows, Fuentes belies his 77 years. He’s dressed in simple, writerly fashion: slightly rumpled white shirt with pen and spectacles peeking out from the pocket, coal-grey slacks, blue socks and light-brown shoes. Hair is brushed back from his forehead and the peppery moustache is neatly trimmed.

    Quixote forms the basis for his Gordimer lecture, so I ask about the Tobias Smollett translation of 1755 and the 2003 Edith Grossman version. Fuentes is on record as saying that Smollett’s is "the one where the feeling and the tone both come through ... the homage of a novelist to a novelist."

    "Every translation reflects the taste and style of the time," Fuentes begins. "The Smollett hadn’t been published since the 18th century. I discovered a copy in the library of the University of Virginia, and took it to my publishers.

    "The translation is in the style of Smollett’s own work, a picaresque novel of the 18th century; it is contemporaneous. The merit of the Grossman translation is that it does not pretend to be cute. It’s a straightforward, very readable version in contemporary English."

    He doesn’t agree with literary theories that the second half of the 20th century belonged to Latin-American writers. "That’s right and wrong, because there were also others. The community of writers and novelists creates a special sense of belonging. I don’t feel alone reading Pamuk, Gordimer, Grass. This is the positive aspect of globalisation."

    What is he reading? "Writers have periscopes! But I don’t get enough time to read everything I want to. Coming to South Africa, I am reading Nadine’s books again, and others. But I don’t like making lists, only of the bad. I read for inspiration, or to escape from what I am writing."

    He learned English at the age of four in Washington, DC, where his father, a career diplomat, was posted. But whatever the vagaries of the peripatetic life of a diplomat’s son -- he was also raised in Buenos Aires and Santiago -- he was sent home, each June to September, to his grandmothers.

    "I write novels thanks to my grand-mothers. They are the novelists. They kept alive my love of the Spanish language. I dream in Spanish, I insult in Spanish, I make love in Spanish, which causes complications."

    Don Quixote and Carlos Fuentes are inextricably entwined. In his novel, The Old Gringo (1985), Fuentes has the title character (based on legendary American journalist and wit Ambrose Bierce) set off for Mexico with a copy of Cervantes, saying, "All my life I’ve wanted to read the Quixote. I’d like to do it before I die. I’ve given up writing forever."

    Not so Fuentes. His new book, The Eagle’s Throne, both revives the epistolary novel and pays homage to Machiavelli’s The Prince. It is set in 2020, when Condoleezza Rice is president of the United States, Mick Jagger is still touring and Fidel Castro is going strong. America has cut off all electronic communication to and from Mexico and so people have to be in touch by letter (or cassette tape).

    You can find the article here

    Find Carlos Fuentes' Books at

    Friday, February 17, 2006

    Alatriste - The Movie

    "He was not the most honest or pious of men, but he was courageous." So begins the tale of Captain Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, the dashing swordsman at the heart of best-selling Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte’s new series set in 17th- century Madrid, now coming to theaters.

    Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence, The Lord of the Rings) will bring the swashbuckling mercenary to the screen in Alatriste, a 20th Century Fox production due to hit U.S. screens later this year. The film, helmed by Agustín Díaz Yanes and based on a script by Díaz Yanes and Perez-Reverte, is Spain’s first entry in the international blockbuster sweepstakes. Mortensen’s costars include Elena Anaya (Van Helsing) and Javier Cámara (Talk To Her).

    You can find the article here

    Hector Babenco and Gael Garcia Bernal will team up for a film version of Alan Pauls' novel El Pasado

    Gael Garcia Bernal is teaming up with Brazil's noted filmmaker Hector Babenco for a new feature. Daily Variety reports Bernal will star in O Pasado, or "The Past"...based on the Argentine novel by Alan Pauls.

    The story concerns a married couple who breaks up...the man tries to move on...but the ex-wife hounds him, as well as the other women in his life. Shooting on the film is scheduled to being in early July in Argentina... on a budget of $5 million U.S.

    You can find the article here

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    A first hand impression of Carlos Fuentes

    From El Blog Diablogico

    For some reason I had always imagined that Fuentes would present a more solemn and patrician figure, like an austerely bookish version of your typical ranch-owning 'Don', but up close in person last night he appeared more pocket-sized and fragile, more paperback than hardback, and a tone or two darker than he had from back in row R in the Purcell Room. But the twinkle in his eye was unmistakeable.

    A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb

    A review of Peter Robb's A Death in Brazil

    Robb's time in Brazil is mostly spent in Recife, capital of Pernambuco, where the view is most often from his table at his favourite restaurant. Robb is such a good food writer that he makes even simple bar snacks sound sublime. The pleasure he takes in food is matched only by his inquisitiveness about its origins and social context, and these passages are some of the best in the book.

    As well as dissecting Brazilian cuisine's tastiest morsels, Robb savours some of Brazil's greatest writers on his way to PC's demise. Machado de Assis, Euclides da Cunha and Gilberto Freyre are all expertly filleted and presented. He also digests landmark events in the country's history: its "discovery" in 1500, Zumbi's republic of escaped slaves and the war of Canudos. The book is as good a portrait of Brazil as anything else I have read.

    The main narrative of A Death in Brazil concerns the Collor years. The book feels especially relevant because of the election, at the end of 2002, of Lula as Brazilian president. This is a blessing and a curse. Lula's victory - it was his fourth attempt - gives Robb a happy ending and neatly brings everything up to date. Yet it also reinforces a sense that the book is politically naïve.

    Lula is over-romanticised as the perfect working-class hero. We learn of his impoverished upbringing in the Pernambuco drylands, his truck journey to the urban south as a child and his emergence as a union leader in the 1970s. Collor is a cardboard cutout of greed, incompetence and outrageous privilege. Yet Brazilian politics has more shades of grey than in Robb's bipolar world. Less than a year and a half into Lula's presidency, facts are emerging about the unscrupulous links between his own campaign finances and organised crime. North-eastern power structures may underpin Brazilian politics, but they are not the full account.

    Still, it is very Brazilian to be passionate, idealistic and opinionated. This Robb does well. I found myself agreeing with almost all his insights into Brazilian life, such as when he remarks on the "avoidance of confrontation of any kind, an endless elasticity of evasion and spurious amiability". Robb, who wrote the successful Midnight in Sicily as well as M, a biography of Caravaggio, has a reputation as an Italy hand. His contact with Brazil has come from regular visits over the past two decades. Yet he has managed to capture the country's spirit and paradoxes in a way few other writers have.

    You can find the article here

    Buy A Death in Brazil at

    Daniel Chavarria Featured at International Book Fair Cuba 2006

    Internationally acclaimed Uruguayan author Daniel Chavarria drew hundreds of readers to the presentation of his new novel during the 15th International Book Fair, currently underway in Cuba.

    "Priapus," an entertaining story filled with humor and eroticism, won Chavarria the important Camilo Jose Cela literature prize granted by Spain's Palma de Mallorca city hall.

    The novel, set in a Cuban village, portrays a young doctor who finds a high occurrence of priapism (persistent and painful erection of the penis) among the local male population.

    You can find the review here

    Find Daniel Chavarria's books at

    The Man of My Life, by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

    Review of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Man of My Life

    This is Montalbán's tone: disappointed melancholy. The same people who had lost the Civil War, then fought to defeat the dictatorship, lost the democracy. Not only were they still at the bottom of the heap, but now their memories were trashed: "The bulldozers had torn down his childhood cinemas, his childhood schools, his childhood neighbours".

    Do not think that Montalbán's books are just gloomy, leftist treatises on defeat and a happier past. The Carvalho mix is funny, too: the detective is scathingly witty about the powerful. He is an original eccentric, burning books and cooking all night. The novels are peppered with recipes and descriptions of feasts.

    The Man of My Life is a novel of the millennium, with murder now wrapped in religious passion and Satanic cults that have replaced Communist parties. However, the real Satanists are not the weird sects of lost children, but the same crooks as ever: capitalist society that ravages its victim-members for profit. Montalbán interweaves with the public story a deeply private tale of lost youth and love, an extended meditation on ageing and loneliness.

    The Man of My Life tells the story of two women who love and pursue Carvalho. One is his long-time on-off lover, the ex-prostitute Charo. The other is Jessica, the teenage beauty of Southern Seas. Her return to the detective's life leads to the novel's most beautiful scenes.

    Like other late Carvalhos, The Man of My Life rambles too much. To some degree, its digressions reflect how Carvalho has become the most passive of detectives, trapped between childhood memories and fearful old age. He finally does react, though, and more fiercely than ever before. Despite his sarcasm, Carvalho is no cynic. Like Chandler's Philip Marlowe, he is the man of honour walking the mean streets of a sick society.

    You can find the full review here

    Buy The Man of My Life at

    Buy El Hombre de Mi Vida at

    Find other Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's books at

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Julio Cortazar - Argentina

    Julio Cortázar (sometimes called "Grandísimo Cronopio" in reference to a genus of fantastic creatures he created) was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1914, to Argentine parents. When he was four years old, his family returned to Buenos Aires to a section of town called Banfield. After completing his studies at the University of Buenos Aires, he became a professor of French literature at the University of Cuyo, Mendoza, in the middle 1940s.

    In 1951, in opposition to the Perón regime, Cortázar emigrated to France, where he lived until his death. From 1952 he worked for UNESCO as a translator. His translation projects included Spanish renderings of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and it is commonly noted that Poe's influence is recognizable in his work.

    In his later years he underwent a political transformation, becoming actively engaged with leftist causes in Latin America, and openly supporting the Cuban Revolution and the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

    He was married three times, to Aurora Bernárdez (in 1953), Ugné Karvelis and Carol Dunlop.

    Julio Cortázar died of leukemia in Paris in 1984 and was interred there in the Cimetière du Montparnasse. It has recently been suggested that AIDS (contracted through a blood transfusion before this disease was identified and given a name) may have been the cause of his death, though the fact not only reminds uncomfirmed, but is sometimes considered a urban myth.

    You can find the full biography here

    Related Posts:
    Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
    Diary of Andrés Fava by Julio Cortázar
    Final Exam by Julio Cortázar

    1938 - Presencía
    1949 - Los Reyes
    1951 - Bestiario
    1956 - Final del juego
    1959 - Las Armas Secretas
    1960 - Los Premios - The Winners
    1962 - Historias de Cronopios y de Famas - Cronopios and Famas
    1963 - Rayuela - Hopscotch
    1964 - Cuentos
    1966 - Todos Los Fuegos El Fuego / All the Fires the Fire
    1967 - El perseguidor y otros cuentos
    1967 - Blow-Up And Other Stories
    1967 - La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos - Around the Day in Eighty Worlds
    1968 - Ceremonias
    1968 - Buenos Aires
    1968 - 62 / Modelo para armar - 62: A Model Kit
    1969 - Último round
    1970 - Literatura en la revolución y revolución en la literatura (with Oscar Collazos and Mario Vargas Llosa)
    1970 - Viaje alrededor de una mesa
    1971 - La isla a mediodía y otros relatos
    1971 - Pameos y meopas
    1972 - Prosa del observatorio
    1973 - Libro de Manuel
    1973 - La casilla de los Morelli
    1974 - Octaedro
    1976 - Humanario
    1976 - Los relatos (3 vols.)
    1977 - Alguien Que Anda Por Ahi
    1979 - Un Tal Lucas
    1980 - A Change of Light and Other Stories
    1981 - París: ritmos de una ciudad
    1981 - Queremos Tanto a Glenda
    1983 - Deshoras
    1983 - Los autonautas de la cosmopista
    1983 - Nicaragua, tan violentamente dulce - Nicaraguan Sketches
    1984 - Salvo El Crepusculo
    1984 - Argentina: años de alambradas culturales
    1984 - Nada a Pehuajó, y Adiós, Robinson
    1985 - Cortázar
    1986 - El Examen
    1986 - Divertimento
    1987 - Policrítica en la hora de los chacales
    1987 - Diario de Andres Fava - Diary of Andres Fava
    1989 - Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales
    1990 - Cartas a una pelirroja
    1994 - Cuentos completos (1945-1982)
    1994 - Siete Cuentos
    1994 - Obra crítica (3 vols.)

    On film:
    1966 - Blow-Up - Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni