Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tomás Eloy Martínez tells the story of the publication of Gabriel García MárquezOne Hundred Years of Solitude.
Agosto de 1967 fue el mes que cambió la vida de Gabriel García Márquez. Había cumplido 40 años el 6 de marzo de ese año, y en septiembre anterior había puesto punto final a Cien años de soledad, su novela de gloria. Todavía no tenía editor. Lo más probable era que terminara cediéndola a Era, el sello mexicano independiente que acababa de publicar El coronel no tiene quien le escriba.

En mayo, cuando la revista Mundo Nuevo adelantó en París el fragmento sobre el insomnio en Macondo, una ráfaga de deslumbramiento corrió entre los lectores hispanoamericanos. Se estaba ante la completa novedad de un lenguaje sin antecedente y de una osadía narrativa que sólo podía compararse con Rabelais, con Kafka y con los cronistas de Indias. Aun así, el autor seguía siendo casi un desconocido. En su casa de San Angel Inn, al sur de la infinita ciudad de México, seguía enredado en apuros económicos que le impedían pagar a tiempo el alquiler y obligaban a su mujer, Mercedes Barcha, a pedir que les fiaran sin término los alimentos en el mercado. Llevaban ya seis meses de insolvencia cuando el propietario de la casa llamó a la puerta y les preguntó si tenían idea de cuándo podrían saldar la deuda. Read More

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Reading Others

Reading impressions on Alberto Manguel's A Reading Diary at Entertaining Research.
A book certainly worth checking out; you might even buy yourself a copy, hunt down the books that Manguel notes in the diary, read them, and compare your reactions with that of his (provided you have enough time and inclination).

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta, author of the novels El cartero de Pablo Neruda (The Postman), La boda del poeta (The Poet’s Wedding) and La chica de trombon (The Girl with the Trobone), just presented a new book Borges y otras historias de amor in Rome.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Roberto Bolaño - The Savage Detectives

Andrew Riemer reviews Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives.
I spent a good bit of time googling the names of some of the hundreds of Latin American poets who snake their way through this preposterous but strangely appealing novel. Setting aside one or two world-famous figures like Octavio Paz, the results were almost always zilch - or links to various sites concerning Bolano's book.

I began to suspect, nevertheless, that things may not be quite as simple as that. One of the two focal characters is a poet called Arturo Belano. Like Roberto Bolano, he was born in Chile in 1953. Like Bolano, he fled from Pinochet's regime in 1973, spent some time in Mexico, then in France and Spain, eventually settling on the outskirts of Barcelona. It is possible, therefore, that the names of real poets are encrypted in these fictional names, just as Bolano's seems to be in Belano. But you can't tell of course, unless you are an expert on Latin American avant-garde poetry of the last quarter of the 20th century.

My other problem had to do with the title. By the end, at the culmination of a hectic search in the backblocks of Mexico, I had a glimmering of what it might refer to, but I wasn't at all confident I had cracked the code. I began wondering whether here, too, the cognoscenti would cotton on to something that had bypassed me almost entirely.

None of this is intended to disparage this ample novel that has something of the imaginative boldness and sense of fantasy that distinguished the work of an earlier generation of Latin American writers such as Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa. Nevertheless, I am certain that The Savage Detectives is a roman a clef for which I - and, I suspect, most Anglo-phone readers - do not possess the key. And just in case I'm suspected of philistinism, I'd better say straight away that that is our loss. Read More

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Roberto Bolaño - Last Evenings on Earth

Miranda France reviews Roberto Bolaño's Last Evenings on Earth.
Visiting Chile in the mid-1990s, I was amazed by the ubiquity of poets. They loitered on the streets, wearing tweed jackets and caps in imitation of their icon, Pablo Neruda, and for a few coins they would sell you a poem, or write one to order.

Poets also abound in the fiction of the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, but here they are caught up in improbable scenes of violence, as though the author were moonlighting on scripts for CSI. Tension mounts in one story after a literary editor rejects his friend's poems because "two Chileans was one Chilean too many for the first issue of a little magazine devoted to Spanish writing".

In "A Literary Adventure", a character dubbed "B" mischievously writes a parody of his rival ("A") into a novel. But, to his surprise, A praises B's novel in the press. B writes another book and this time A rewards him with a glowing, five-page review. B becomes neurotic, paranoid and ill as he dwells obsessively on the reasons behind A's generosity.

Bolaño, who died in Spain in 2003, acknowledged a debt to Borges, who would have loved these literary detective stories. He writes as though presenting depositions in a court room. Forensic attention is paid to details such as the position of a person's hands, while other information is glossed over in a line or two: "Years went by. Many years. Some friends died. I got married, had a child, published some books." Read More

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Alejandro Dolina - Crónicas del Ángel Gris

A review of Alejandro Dolina's Crónicas del Ángel Gris ("Chronicles of the Gray Angel").
“Crónicas del Ángel Gris” es el primer libro que escribió “El negro” Dolina. A mi modo de ver es uno de los grandes libros argentinos del siglo XX que une popularidad con calidad y entretenimiento. No solo ha vendido una gran cantidad de ejemplares, lo que lo ha convertido en un best-seller sino que ha generado centenares de “fanáticos” y seguidores. En sus páginas el autor recopila más de cincuenta crónicas, cuentos, poesías, payadas, mitos y narraciones cortas. Read More

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Javier Cercas - The Speed of Light

Mauro Javier Cardenas reviews Javier Cercas' The Speed of Light.
In Javier Cercas' previous novel, the affecting and widely honored "Soldiers of Salamis," a narrator named Javier Cercas chronicles his attempt to write a true story about a small episode in the Spanish Civil War. Through the recollections of an ensemble of Spaniards, Cercas returns to this episode often, wondering why a soldier of the Republic didn't report a Nationalist prisoner who had escaped from a mass execution. At the same time, a series of motifs recur, over and over, as if trying to attach themselves to some meaning about heroism or war or history, eventually finding it in Miralles, a veteran of many wars who transmutes what precedes him with an unexpected and heartbreaking coda.

Cercas' new novel, "The Speed of Light," follows a similar method of inquiry. An unnamed narrator chronicles his attempt to write a true story about Rodney Falk, a Vietnam War veteran he befriended as a young man at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Read More

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Roberto Bolaño - The Savage Detectives

Phil Brown reviews Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives.
There's a real Beat Generation feel to this picaresque novel with its myriad weird and colourful characters, its agitated restlessness, its lack of restraint and the inherent idea that literature constitutes a sort of existentialist political ideology.

For Bolano poetry is the purest, most political literary form and his narrative is filthy (I use the word advisedly) with bards of all sorts – mostly politically naive, slightly deranged losers.

The main characters, poets Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, are almost certainly Bolano himself and his pal Mario Santiago who once formed their own avant-garde literary movement – the infra-realists – in Mexico City in the 1970s.

They used to go to readings by Octavio Paz (the Mexican writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990) and shout their own poems out. Talk about rude.

In The Savage Detectives, Belano and Lima form a movement called the visceral realists.

They are passionate about their poetry and entrench themselves in Mexico City's Bohemian literary underground before setting out on a quixotic adventure in search of another poet, Cesarea Tinajero, who disappeared into the Sonoran Desert and obscurity decades before.

As with any true quest it's the journey that's important and what the heroes learn along the way which is, frankly, not much.

But there's plenty of wine, women and song en route, lots of politics and way too much poetry.

The intricacies of the local literary scene are exhaustively chronicled and the parade of writers and lowlifes is as endless as it is confusing.

At the beginning of the book we are being told this story by a young man who looks up to the two adventurer poets but in the end a cacophony of voices end up telling the tale.

Self-indulgence is a hallmark of this work and that puts it squarely in the Beat tradition.

Kerouac's alcoholic delusions and his pretentious meanderings led him, eventually, into a morass of despair and after more than 500 pages of The Savage Detectives that's where I ended up too. Read More

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Ser sincero es decir lo que piensas. La vida sería invivible si uno dijera siempre lo que piensa. Ser veraz significa que lo que digas sea verdad. Aquí interviene el silencio, lo que uno calla para hacer la vida vivible.

An interview with Spanish author Manuel Vicent.

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An interview from Mexican newspaper Vanguardia with Mexican journalist and author Elena Poniatowska, who completes 75 years tomorrow.

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Colombian writers Gabriel García Márquez and Santiago Gamboa will be homaged today in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo within the "Feira do Livro do Colégio Miguel de Cervantes" (Miguel de Cervantes School Book Fair).

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Peruvian writer Alfredo Bryce Echenique, author of novels as "A world for Julius", "Tarzan's Tonsillitis" or "El huerto de mi amada" winner of 2002 Prémio Planeta is again envolved in a plagiarism case.

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An overview of new Spanish directors at Cannes, with notes on:
  • Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Orphanage"
  • Jorge Blanco's "Planet One"
  • Rafa Cortes' "Me"
  • Ramon Costafreda's "Wrap Up"
  • Mario Iglesias' "De bares," "Catalina"
  • Jaime Marques Olarreaga's "Thieves"
  • Juanjo Ramirez' "Going Nuts"
  • Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo's "The Night of the Sunflowers"
  • David and Tristan Ulloa's "Pudor"
  • Nacho Vigalondo's "Time Crimes"
Read More

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Daniel Alarcón - Lost City Radio

Boyd Tonkin reviews Daniel Alarcón's Lost City Radio.
This is a formidably accomplished first novel. Alarcón's nameless country feels as intensely real as the riotous flora of its rainforests or the reeking slums of its cities. Yet its location beyond any map allows him to synthesise the ordeals of many places into a fable of loss and longing that decodes the "indecipherable text" of every murky civil war. As I found out in Colombia this year, the unfinished business of Latin America's armed conflicts - in states with a semblance of political peace, but no proper social resolution - has been preying on creative minds across the continent.

Alarcón surveys this "postconflict" landscape in a style that weds gravity to grace - but he does so as an Anglophone author rooted in Hispanic realities. We know that fiction in English has flourished for over half a century in the Indian subcontinent. Much more recent is the wave of Anglophone writing from regions that lack the same history of colonisation or settlement. The Bogotá "39 under 39" list has another rising star who only writes in English: Junot Diaz from the Dominican Republic, but now settled in the US.

In the past, a literary shift of tongues signalled a permanent state of exile or emigration: think of Nabokov, or Conrad. Now we enjoy more flexible times, in which a writer such as Alarcón can be claimed, and acclaimed, by two continents at once. Yet it's still the English language that tends to reap the benefits of this hybridity. Secure in its hegemony, English can say to the world, "Make yourself at home". Even if, in this case, the Spanish sounds far sweeter: Mi casa es tu casa. Read More

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tom Nissley reviews Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives.

Like the best big books, The Savage Detectives feels like it could be even bigger. Not by forging past its ending, which comes to a final, if inconclusive, silence, but by broadening its wide middle, into which, like one of Bolaño's more digressive sentences, yet one more anecdote or qualification could always be inserted. Despite the novel's clear and ingenious structure, it doesn't feel so much constructed as observed: watchful and insatiably curious. The searches for lost poets it's built around seem just lures to bring you into the lives of those you meet along the way. I could happily be led astray like that forever. (No such luck, though. Bolaño died of liver failure at the age of 50 in 2003, just after finishing his other giant masterpiece, 2666, which is due out in English next year.)

If Bolaño, as is often said, is the next García Márquez, it's in stature, not style. There's no magic to the realism in The Savage Detectives, but rather a restless, expansive attention to detail as his bohemian saints are blown through the Hispanic diaspora by politics, poverty, and possibility. American readers might hear echoes of the beats here, and it's true his characters are always on the road. But the beats thought they had found something new, authentic, and immediate (often in Mexico, in fact). For Bolaño and his characters, not only have the beats already happened, everything has already happened. There's no promise of immediacy (except perhaps for the naive García Madero). Every tale is recounted at one—at least one—remove. It's as if you were reading On the Road told by a writer who had heard about the adventure second- or thirdhand. (A better road to compare to is the one in that sad and sexy movie Y Tu Mamá También.)

In his short novel Distant Star—another search for an elusive poet—Bolaño writes of "the melancholy folklore of exile—made up of stories that, often as not, are fabrications or pale copies of what really happened." Bolaño was himself an exile: Driven from Chile after his arrest under Pinochet, he followed a path across continents much like that of his character Belano (the confusion of names is no coincidence). Not all exile is physical, though—the first section of The Savage Detectives is called "Mexicans Lost in Mexico." And as much as the novel is constructed around a search for Lima and Belano (and around their own search for the poet Cesárea Tinajero), the poet I found myself missing most in the story was the one who, at times, is the most present. García Madero is an immensely charming companion, fresh and open to experience, untutored but able to learn, and I spent much of the middle section of the book wishing he were there (as I think I was supposed to). The saddest lines are the ones spoken, 20 years after the events in the diary, by the world's only scholar of visceral realism: "Juan García Madero?" he says. "No, the name doesn't ring a bell. He never belonged to the group." The saddest story, but also the most tantalizing, in this book where to be a poet is to disappear. Read More

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Arturo Pérez-Reverte: The Sun Over Breda

Kai Maristed reviews Arturo Pérez-Reverte's The Sun Over Breda.
For all its rigorous authenticity, and lack of narrative surprise, "The Sun Over Breda" is no arcane, little-known exercise in military history. It's the third volume in Pérez-Reverte's Capt. Alatriste series, which, with his other novels, such as "The Club Dumas," first caught fire in the Spanish-speaking world and now have sold almost 5 million copies worldwide. Pérez-Reverte, a former war correspondent, has recently garnered bouquets of critical accolades in Europe for a subsequent, contemporary novel (as yet unpublished in English), "The Painter of Battles." The title merges two subjects in the foreground of "The Sun Over Breda," and just as Velázquez painted himself into his own work as an observer at Breda, so one can visualize Pérez-Reverte writing himself into the character of a portrayer of warfare.

Perhaps the role, and the attitude, of such fascinated observers must by nature be ambiguous. As Íñigo exclaims, after another round of mutual dismemberment and extinction, "I know that from the beginning of time, well-intentioned people have condemned violence and preached peace and God's word, and I, better than many, know what war does to a man's body and soul, but despite all that … I cannot help but shiver with admiration when I witness the courage of valiant men." Words to ponder, in our time. Read More

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Joanne Omang reviews Mayra Montero's Dancing to "Almendra".
An escaped hippopotamus has been killed at the Havana zoo, but cub reporter Joaquín Porrata would much rather be writing about the death in New York that same day of Mafia executioner Umberto Anastasia. Then a zoo worker reveals a connection. It's 1957, and we are instantly hooked into this gripping novel about the beautiful, steaming, rotten hulk of pre-Castro Cuba, where very little is the way it seems.

The rebels are in the mountains and setting off car bombs downtown, but Porrata is a "cherubic-looking boy" whose meager ambition is to move from covering Havana's pulsing nightlife to writing "court news, for example, or feature articles about the airport." But because of a benign childhood encounter with gangster Meyer Lansky, he's also keeping notes on the Mafia figures whose grim hold on the island depends on remaining officially invisible. Not a good omen for a nosy young reporter.

Author Mayra Montero, Cuban by birth and now a newspaper columnist in Puerto Rico, knows that journalists survive in corrupt and violent places by writing between the lines, reporting a truth that's invisible except to those who know the code. Not for Porrata the open commitment of the couple who give the book its title when he sees them dancing to the sad song "Almendra" ("The Almond"): "There was something solid and distinctive in the honored way they followed the rhythm. There was no hope for anyone else." Read More

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David L. Ulin reviews Laura Restrepo's Delirium.
In her novel "Delirium," the Colombian writer Laura Restrepo attempts to write about madness from the inside and outside all at once. Set primarily in Bogotá, the book operates from a simple premise: A former university professor named Aguilar returns home from a short trip to find that his wife, Agustina, has shrugged off the mantle of her sanity. It's not the first time this has happened; Aguilar now drives a van delivering pet food, a job with hours flexible enough to let him tend to Agustina and her states of mind.

But what has pushed her over the edge this time? Was it an encounter with a lover? Or perhaps some dark flood of memory? As the novel unfolds, Restrepo seeks to take us into the heart of the mystery, moving among four perspectives — Aguilar's account of his wife's breakdown; Agustina's own recollections of growing up in a house defined by silence; an extended monologue by Midas McAlister, Agustina's former lover and a financier for the drug lord Pablo Escobar; and the story of Agustina's grandfather Nicholas, who shared her condition — to develop a sense of context that tells us something about this woman whose life, we learn, is sheathed in lies.

Such a construct has potential, but difficulties arise from the outset, beginning with Restrepo's inability to bring Agustina to life. She is, or so the novel tells us, special, touched with psychic abilities — a kind of healer — but this seems contrived. Rather, she's most memorable as one of those people who drives others crazy: haughty, demanding, mercurial. Wealthy, with a powerful father and deep, if elusive, ties to Colombia's narco-underground, she drifts across the surface of existence, untouched by consequence. Even her madness seems self-indulgent, with no weight, no depth. Read More

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Benjamin Lytal and Alexandre Gefen review Mario Vargas Llosa's The Temptation of the Impossible.

Although books about other books abound, there are very few that actually tell us what it is like to read. "The Temptation of the Impossible," Mario Vargas Llosa's book about Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables," is one of these rare confessions. Perhaps because Vargas Llosa is himself an author, a Peruvian rival of the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, he has the confidence to tell us that his comprehension is sometimes stretched, his attention fluctuates and that when he closes his eyes, only a few memorable scenes from a novel appear before them.

Vargas Llosa calls these hotspots "active craters." In Hugo's epic novel, he picks out the scene in the Paris sewers as the ex-convict Jean Valjean emerges with Marius on his shoulders and also the epic battle on the barricade at La Chanvrerie, in which the street urchin Gavroche dies and Valjean saves the life of Javert, the relentless policeman. The scenes' vitality "flows from them and expands in time and space"; they "dominate the vast landscape of 'Les Misérables.' " The vastness of that landscape, at about 1,200 pages in translation, cannot be ignored. Vargas Llosa admits that the story has a "slow pace," but he makes a good apology for it. Were the story not so long, he writes, it would not be as powerful: "Quantity is one of the ingredients in the quality of a novel." Read More

It was one of the most popular novels of the nineteenth century and Tolstoy called it "the greatest of all novels."
Yet today Victor Hugo's Les Misérables is neglected by readers and undervalued by critics. In The Temptation of the Impossible, one of the world's great novelists, Mario Vargas Llosa, helps us to appreciate the incredible ambition, power, and beauty of Hugo's masterpiece and, in the process, presents a humane vision of fiction as an alternative reality that can help us imagine a different and better world.Hugo, Vargas Llosa says, had at least two goals in Les Misérables--to create a complete fictional world and, through it, to change the real world. Despite the impossibility of these aims, Hugo makes them infectious, sweeping up the reader with his energy and linguistic and narrative skill. Les Misérables, Vargas Llosa argues, embodies a utopian vision of literature--the idea that literature can not only give us a supreme experience of beauty, but also make us more virtuous citizens, and even grant us a glimpse of the "afterlife, the immortal soul, God." If Hugo's aspiration to transform individual and social life through literature now seems innocent, Vargas Llosa says, it is still a powerful ideal that great novels like Les Misérables can persuade us is true.Mario Vargas Llosa is a prolific novelist and essayist whose literary criticism includes A Writer's Reality, Letters to a Young Novelist, and studies of Flaubert and Gabriel García Márquez. Read More

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Caitlin Esch interviews Bolivian author Juan de Recacoechea, on his recently published "American Visa".

Rail: What kinds of opportunities exist in Bolivia today for writers, journalists and novelists, as compared to 20 years ago?

Recacoechea: Well, now it’s easy to publish. There are many people publishing, but the writers have to pay to publish their own novels. You write a novel, you pay for it. So there are hundreds of novels going around. But to be published without paying for it yourself? That’s very difficult. Only a few can do that, myself and maybe four or five others. So it’s difficult. And the money’s no good. You get 10% of the royalties, but you never really know how much they sell, because of the black market and all the black market editions, ediciones truchas. They say American Visa sold 13,000 copies, but what about the other books that are sold on the black market? There were 13,000 copies sold legally, but maybe 30,000 sold altogether. They print them in Peru, you know. It’s impossible to control.

Rail: Let’s talk about American Visa. Your protagonist, Mario Alvarez, commits robbery and murder to pay for his American visa. Why is obtaining an American visa such a difficult yet desirous—sometimes desperate— thing for some Bolivians to do?

Recacoechea: It was not always difficult to get a visa for the United States until the Second World War. It was more difficult to get a European visa. All Latin Americans could come to the United States without a visa. After the ’60s or ’70s maybe, it got more difficult to get a visa because so many people were coming to the United States. After the 1952 Revolution in Bolivia, the high bourgeoisie started coming here. They didn’t go to Europe because in Europe the salaries were very low. So they came here and lived in Washington, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, San Jose, New York. Many many people came here. Now, people in Bolivia are going to Spain. But that’s more the lower classes—people who are not educated, like hairdressers and waitresses. Now, when you go to a café, and you say, “Where is Maria who always serves me?” They say, “Oh, she is in Spain.” Read More

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Christine Thomas reviews José Carlos Somoza's "Zig Zag".

If time travel were possible, where and to what occasion would you desire a visit? Cuban-born Spanish author Jose Carlos Somoza recently told an interviewer that his top choices would be the age of dinosaurs and the Jerusalem of Jesus' time, so it's not unexpected that his new novel, "Zig Zag," centers on a covert government project that retrieves moments from precisely those eras.

Though initially uncomplicated, the story belies a scrupulously researched and truly terrifying thriller derived from the horrors of our imaginations. Staging the story in 2005 and 2015 allows Somoza to explore our post-9/11 landscape, which -- as one of the main characters, physicist Professor Blanes, explains to Elisa, the protagonist and his one-time student -- is one where fear rules and Western countries invest more in arms than science. It is a time where "now all we have are lies."

Physics and terror may not seem overtly compelling subjects, but the novel is less about science and governments and more about people: scientists who aren't so different from other curious people who want answers and set out to unearth them. Elisa Robledo is the center of the book, a competitive professor with incongruous good looks and a gifted brain for physics who is also a mysterious recluse. Her only friend is Victor, a fellow physics professor and a benign companion who prefers plants and riddles to people. This affinity for puzzles launches the story, for when Elisa unexpectedly contacts him to arrange a meeting, she does so through code, one that leads to another test as she permits him entry into her private world of terror:

"You have no idea, no idea, the degree of evil I'm talking about, Victor. I've never told anyone; I swore I wouldn't. But I can't take it anymore. I have to tell someone, and you're the one I chose." Read More

José Carlos Somoza was born in November 13th, 1959 in Havana, Cuba, and lives in Spain since 1960.

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Mauro Javier Cardenas reviews Javier Cercas' "The Speed of Light".

In Javier Cercas' previous novel, the affecting and widely honored "Soldiers of Salamis," a narrator named Javier Cercas chronicles his attempt to write a true story about a small episode in the Spanish Civil War. Through the recollections of an ensemble of Spaniards, Cercas returns to this episode often, wondering why a soldier of the Republic didn't report a Nationalist prisoner who had escaped from a mass execution. At the same time, a series of motifs recur, over and over, as if trying to attach themselves to some meaning about heroism or war or history, eventually finding it in Miralles, a veteran of many wars who transmutes what precedes him with an unexpected and heartbreaking coda.

Cercas' new novel, "The Speed of Light," follows a similar method of inquiry. An unnamed narrator chronicles his attempt to write a true story about Rodney Falk, a Vietnam War veteran he befriended as a young man at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The young narrator, an aspiring novelist, has left Barcelona with a scholarship to teach Spanish in the Midwest. His new American peers lampoon Rodney, the department's loner and a potential loony. "[O]ne of these days," one of them says, "he's going to show up here with a Kalashnikov and blow us all away." But Rodney, an "anachronistic hippie" with the "the swaying instability of a pachyderm on the point of collapse," is also the most literary person he meets. The narrator and Rodney start to spend time together. They never talk about Vietnam, but about books, and, years later, the narrator will interpret Rodney's lectures on literature as pointers on how to tell his Vietnam story. Rodney declares: "[A]ll narrative art consists on knowing when to shut up: that's why the best way to tell a story is not to tell it." Read More

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Ilan Stavans reviews Roberto Bolaño's "Savage Detectives" and "Amulet".

Not since Gabriel García Márquez, whose masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, turns 40 this year, has a Latin American redrawn the map of world literature so emphatically as Roberto Bolaño does with The Savage Detectives. The Chilean-born Bolaño moved with his parents to Mexico in 1968, returned to Chile in 1973 only to be caught up in the Pinochet coup d'etat, and settled eventually in Catalonia, Spain. Much of the time before his untimely death in 2003, at the age of 50, he was obsessed with being an outcast. His turn has come to be an icon.

Bolaño not only wrote exactly what and how he pleased; he also viciously attacked figures such as Isabel Allende and Octavio Paz, accusing them of being conformists, more interested in fame than in art. In poems, stories (some of them included in his Last Evenings on Earth), novellas (such as Distant Star and By Night in Chile), two mammoth narratives (one under review here and 2666, scheduled for publication next year in English translation), and an essay collection (called, in Spanish, Entre paréntesis), he cultivated such a flamboyant, stylistically distinctive, counter-establishment voice that it's no exaggeration to call him a genius. Read More

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Volver by Pedro Almodovar

Mitchell Warren reviews Volver.
Volver plays like a melodrama more than a piece of visionary film making, like a Mike Leigh film (Secrets And Lies) with far more pleasant scenery. There is also some dark comedy in the film, with Raimunda's unfortunate problem of disposing of a corpse. Performances are excellent, even if subtitled, most notably Penelope Cruz and followed by Blanca Portillo as Agustina and Carmen Maura as Mother Irene. By the time the final tear is dropped, there is much that is left unsaid, and even unrevealed to we the audience. However, the film's central plot is the main emphasis for the story. We didn't get to meet Raimunda or Solie as much as we got to merely witness an episode in their life, like eavesdropping on a mother-daughter chat from a nearby hospital bed. Volver is still exciting though in a nonexplosive, character-driven way. Pedro Almodovar knows how to create cinema life out of anything, even the very small and unassuming. His younger contemporaries are still fascinated with all the big guns and apocalyptic visions - the sort of little boy toys that Almodovar abandoned so he could spend more quality time with women. Read More

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Book Review: The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Marcelo Ballvé reviews Roberto Bolaño's "Savage Detectives".

There are certain books that mark generations. That is the case, in the English-speaking world, with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which left an indelible imprint on the generation that came of age before World War II. It is also the case with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which more than any work seems to capture the self-obsessed, hyper-kinetic madness of the ‘90s.

Such milestone books don’t come along that often, and it is always a risky proposition to try to single them out. It’s possible that in another decade, Infinite Jest will seem less relevant, and another novel will rise to take its place as the book that marked Generation X or Y, whichever ends up being the paradigmatic millennium-straddling class.

The English-speaking world, though, is only a slice of the literary universe. I have lived my entire life in a state of linguistic schizophrenia, dividing my brain between English and Spanish. That means I am a confused person, but there are also compensations to be had for living with such duel-mindedness.

One of the most rewarding experiences in my reading life has been to observe the meteoric posthumous ascent of Chile-born novelist Roberto Bolaño, who died at age 50 in 2003. Even before he died, his 1998 novel Los Detectives Salvajes (just published by FSG in English as The Savage Detectives) was being hailed as a literary landmark, of the kind that only comes along once in a generation. At this point, it seems safe to say it will exercise a dominant influence on Spanish-language readers for many years to come. Curiously, for a generation-marking novel, it is not so much about the times in which it was written as it is about the disillusionments of the late 20th century, namely the foundering utopias of the ‘70s, decades of ugly violence in Latin America. Read More

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Book Review: Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón

John Freeman reviews Daniel Alarcón's "Lost City Radio".

This novel could feel like a political tract, were it not so skilful at portraying the moral insanity of war. Lost City Radio reveals how hard it is to separate villains from victims, killers from the killed.

The novel's key plot revolves around a boy who is sent from a village to the city to have a list of names read on Norma's show. His appearance sets off a chain of events that show how all the characters are more connected than at first appears.

Alarcón is still in his late 20s, but he has a veteran's control of the complicated plot mechanisms this storyline requires. More impressively, time and again he resists the urge to bring the hammer of judgment down upon any of his characters.

We emerge from this impressive political fable with a profound sense of loss and rage, and a clarifying glimpse into the futility of violence.

"What does the end of a war mean," Alarcón writes, early in the novel, "if not that one side ran out of men willing to die?" Read More

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