Saturday, December 11, 2010

José Saramago: The Notebook

Leora Skolkin-Smith reviews José Saramago's The Notebook.
In September of 2008, at the age of eighty-five, Jose Saramago began to write a blog. His wife, watching him suffer the restlessness and anxiety of advanced age, had suggested to him that he try doing something challenging, as his traveling and own writing were slowing down. Unlike so many writers who viewed the approaching age of the Internet as threatening, Saramago wrote: “Could it be, to put it more clearly, that it’s here (on the Internet) that we most closely resemble one another? Are we more companionable when we write on the Internet? I have no answers. I’m merely asking the questions. And I enjoy writing here now. I don’t know whether it’s more democratic, I only know that I feel just the same as the young man with the wild hair and round-rimmed glasses, in his early twenties, who was asking the large questions. For a blog no doubt.”

Saramago viewed blogging as a new collectivism, egalitarian by its very nature. This kind of sentiment was not unusual for Saramago, as his work comes from a broad range of issues about power, social status, and social organization. “The one from and into which all others flow is the question of power,” he once wrote, “and the theoretical and practical problem we are presented with is identifying who holds it, discovering how they attained it, checking what use they make of it, and by what means and for what end.” The phenomenon of the Internet was, for Saramago, a necessary cleansing of the power structures inherent in print and other media, and reading this collection of essays (most of which are raw, urgent, and fragmentary) it seemed that the Nobel Prize winner wished to be a member of the clamorous cyber population, not a distant, superior observer from the upper ranks and echelons of literature and ideas. For him, blogging was a form of citizenship and a means, perhaps, that might engender a new moral conscience, fostering meaningful (albeit sometimes irrational and strident), global dialogues.
Click to read the full article

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Mario Benedetti: The Rest is Jungle

Paul Doyle reviews Mario Benedetti's The Rest is Jungle.
The Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, sadly, was little translated into English during his lifetime, and most of what made it through was poetry. Perhaps this was because his fiction never quite fit the English-world model of a Latin American writer, neither writing the meta investigations of a Borges or Cortazar, nor delving into the magical realism of the Boom. Instead, his short stories were in a more realist vein, interested in urban dwellers; later, as he was marked by the turbulent history of Uruguay and its neighbor, Argentina, he reflected on the plight of the political prisoner and the exile. He was concerned with more than just 20th-century history, though, and he included in his stories moments of the fantastic and a humor that finds the foolishness in the deepest held aspirations of his characters. At his best, he combined these to draw portraits of stagnation, isolation, and the limiting power of dreams that are often funny, sometimes dark, and usually surprising.

English-speaking readers can now see for themselves with Harry Morales’ excellent translation of Benedetti’s stories, The Rest Is Jungle. While his stories do vary in structure, one consistent feature is that Benedetti liked to work with voices, whether through conversations or first-person narratives bordering on neurotic self-justifications. Using the conversational structure allowed Benedetti to dispense with direct psychological insights and let his characters reveal themselves, though they are never fully aware (even though they think they are). Not extravagant in their confessions, all these people want to do is talk, to explain. They show that even the most quotidian things can be the most revealing, if you know where to look for it.
Click to read the full article

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Macedonio Fernandez: The Museum of Eterna’s Novel: The First Good Novel

Three Percent reviews Macedonio Fernandez' The Museum of Eterna’s Novel: The First Good Novel.
Macedonio Fernandez is little known outside Argentina. Unfortunately I foresee this remaining the case for some time. Even with the recent translation and publication of his posthumous novel, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel: The First Good Novel (Museo de la Novela de la Eterna), by Open Letter Books (translated by Margaret Schwartz), the “skip-around readers” Fernandez is looking for (to convert into “orderly readers”) are few. One of the reasons is because Fernandez is taking a risk. He knows exactly what his novel is and what it isn’t: he knows that it is the “First Good Novel,” which follows the writing of another novel, Adriana Buenos Aires: The Last Bad Novel (Adriana Buenos Aires: ultima novella mala). So what makes Fernandez’s novel so good? This is where (and why) he remains obscure: the tenacity with which he hopes to redefine the novel. It is a task that can get sloppy very quickly. And so, Fernandez makes sure that the reader is well equipped before “beginning” his novel (he argues, “. . . the reader comes late if he comes after the cover.”). Thus, he prolongs the start of his novel with fifty-seven prologues: in part to provoke the novel to be “thrown violently to the floor most often, and avidly taken up again just as often” by his readers. He boasts, “What other author can boast of that?”
Click to read the full article

José Saramago: The Elephant’s Journey

Richard Elliott reviews José Saramago's The Elephant’s Journey.
The late Portuguese writer José Saramago was a master at combining the fantastic with the banal, the metaphoric with the everyday. There’s always a sense in his prose that, whatever the story he might be telling us, there are a multitude of stories framing it, running alongside it, or visible just beyond its borders. Saramago wants us to know that those stories, which are sometimes really observations and sometimes fantastical retellings of official history, need to be included in the story he is telling us, such that we imagine, or he lets us believe we imagine, that what is unfolding in the labyrinth of his text is one, unending metastory. Frequently, in his wandering, loosely punctuated prose—sometimes described as magical realism, sometimes as stream-of-consciousness, but perhaps just as easily thought of as the flow of history running all around us and threatening to flood the present—he will take us sidestepping through the fragile walls that separate these universes, giving us a glimpse of the bigger picture before shuttling us back to the scene in which this particular story is taking place.

The Elephant’s Journey, published in Portuguese in 2008, was one of Saramago’s last works. The journey of the title is inspired by historical events that occurred in 1551, when King João III of Portugal decided, on the advice of his Austrian wife, to give Archduke Maximilian the belated wedding gift of an elephant. Solomon, the elephant, and Subhro, his keeper or mahout, have been languishing in Lisbon since being brought back from Goa two years prior. It’s decided that both will travel to Valladolid in Spain, to meet with the Archduke, and then proceed with him to Rosas on the East coast, then across the Mediterranean to Genoa in Italy, and on to the imperial city of Vienna.
Click to read the full article

Roberto Bolaño: The Skating Rink

Tim Martin reviews Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink.
It took the English-speaking world until several years after Roberto Bolaño’s death in 2003 to get a sense of his genius in drip-fed translations, but, thanks to excellent English versions by (separately) Natasha Wimmer and Chris Andrews, a full-scale excavation of the Chilean novelist’s talent is now underway.

The Skating Rink is just one of several novels, essays and poems that are scheduled for publication or reissue this year or next. The treats in store include not only an entire unpublished novel and a collection of stories but a lost sixth part to the compendious masterpiece 2666, the last book Bolaño completed before his death at the age of 50.

As The Skating Rink is a first novel – or, to be exact, the first novel that Bolaño published after his decision to switch from poetry to prose writing, in his forties – it might seem to be facing stiff competition from this emerging legacy. But never fear: elegant, elusive and amusing, this novel is more than capable of standing alongside the rest of Bolaño’s work, and both long-time fans of the author’s writing and those coming to it fresh will find much to love.
Click to read the full article

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Juan José Saer: The Sixty-Five Years of Washington

Abigail B. Lind reviews Juan José Saer's The Sixty-Five Years of Washington.
Given its lofty historical and ontological concerns, it is easy to forget that “The Sixty-Five Years of Washington” is ultimately a travel narrative: a morning’s journey of 21 blocks. Saer punctuates his characters’ musings with descriptions of Santa Fe, and he fixates on a conception of “the city not as though it were divided into neighborhoods or sections, but rather into territories in the animal sense, an archaic and violent demarcation of ritual, bloody defense.” Yet Saer seems more interested in the social fragmentation of national trauma than in its geographical repercussions. In his Argentina, people are isolated from each other, and they are lucky if their experiences overlap enough to chat about Washington Noriega’s birthday last weekend. That may be the case, but it’s fortunate that this last novel affords one last chance to glimpse Saer’s distorted and provocative inner world.
Click to read the full article

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Belles Étrangères

This year's edition of Belles Étrangères is dedicated to Colombian Literature.
The invited author for this edition are: Hector Abad Faciolince, Antonio Caballero, Jorge Franco, Santiago Gamboa, Tomás Gonzalez, William Ospina, Juan Manuel Roca, Evelio Rosero, Gonzalo Sanchez, Antonio Ungar, Fernando Vallejo and Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

Here's an interview with Jorge Franco.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Interview with Gonzalo Márquez Cristo

Nathalie Handal interviews Colombian poet, editor, and writer Gonzalo Márquez Cristo. An interview about his city Bogotá.
I have always believed that Bogotá is a city afflicted by rain, a troubled widow under the storm, a red city without a sky, and since I was a child I was faced with its most devious, and also its most feverish poetic possibilities. The Colombian capital is a city of 8 million people where chaos is opposed to a great life force that keeps you from succumbing. One graffiti emblematic of the seventies, written by an anonymous hand in a salsa bar said: “el país se derrumba y nosotros de rumba” (The country is falling apart and we are celebrating).But it is this playful and delirious state founded by the nocturnal exorcism of dance and celebration that collectively frees the harsh reality of a people who have not solved the most basic experiential problems. Bogotá, therefore, to many sensitive people, is a city built during the night and destroyed with the wound of dawn.
Click to read the full interview

Silvina Ocampo: The Golden Hare

Andrea Rosenberg translated Silvina Ocampo's The Golden Hare and writes about it.
I knew I had to translate “The Golden Hare,” Silvina Ocampo’s mysterious fable, as soon as I read the first few sentences. Now often published separately as a children’s book in Argentina, it is the first story in Ocampo’s 1959 collection La furia (The Fury). Silvina, the less famous and more ethereal of Argentina’s most renowned literary siblings, is perhaps best known in the United States (if she is known at all) for her associations with other more prominent literary figures—she was Victoria Ocampo’s sister, Adolfo Bioy Casares’s wife, Jorge Luis Borges’s close friend—but she was a prizewinning poet and short-story writer in her own right and published more than two dozen collections of short narrative and poetry during her lifetime, as well as a novel and a play. She was also, to my great delight, a prolific translator, bringing such writers as Dickinson, Melville, and Poe into Spanish.
Click to read the full article
And the full story is also available here.

Related Posts:
Mariana Enriquez on Silvina Ocampo

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gabriel García Márquez: Clandestine in Chile

Jo Littler reviews Gabriel García Márquez' Clandestine in Chile.
Márquez has had parallel careers as journalist and screenwriter alongside his more prominent role as Nobel prizewinning novelist. This book brings these strands together as Márquez tells us about the exiled film director Miguel Littín's experience of returning to Chile in 1985, under a false identity, to record life under Pinochet's dictatorship. Littín had only narrowly escaped with his life 12 years earlier, when the socialist president Salvador Allende was brutally ousted by a US-backed military coup and many of his supporters were rounded up and murdered.
Click to read the full article

Related Posts
Gabriel García Márquez: Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Ilan Stavans: Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years
Gabriel García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez: Memories of my Melancholy Whores

Friday, October 08, 2010

Press Round Up

Here's a very limited list of articles and reactions on Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel prize.
Nobel Prize in literature is awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa
Mario Vargas Llosa Wins Nobel Literature Prize
Nobel de littérature : Mario Vargas Llosa
Nobel da Literatura para Mario Vargas Llosa
Y el ganador es… ¡Mario Vargas Llosa!
La fête à Vargas Llosa
Le Nobel 2010 s'appelle Vargas Llosa
Le prix Nobel de littérature décerné à Mario Vargas Llosa
Peruvian Vargas Llosa wins literature Nobel
Nobel de littérature 2010 : Mario Vargas Llosa, éternel révolté
Le prix Nobel de littérature 2010 attribué au Péruvien Mario Vargas Llosa
Mario Vargas Llosa: a worthy Nobel prize for literature winner?
Nobel : la surprise Vargas llosa
Le Nobel à Mario Vargas Llosa
Y el Nobel de Literatura es para… Mario Vargas Llosa
Mario Vargas Llosa: an unclassifiable Nobel winner
Why Ngugi wa Thiong'o should have won the Nobel prize for literature
Mario Vargas Llosa's work and life push boundaries
A Storyteller Enthralled by the Power of Art
Mario, el fuego que nunca se apaga
Waiting for Luggage With Vargas Llosa
Mario Vargas Llosa surprised and delighted by Nobel prize win
Vargas Llosa wins Nobel literature prize
Vargas Llosa: Nobel Goes for Well-Known Name
Mario Vargas Llosa: Five essential novels
Mario Vargas Llosa, Premio Nobel de Literatura 2010
Mario Vargas Llosa Wins the Nobel
A look at Mario Vargas Llosa
'Cartographer of Power' Vargas Llosa A Phenomenal Choice for Nobel
Vargas Llosa, l'insoumis

Audio from Mario Vargas Llosa's press conference

Click to hear the New York Times audio clips.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Júlio Cortázar reads "El perseguidor" (The Pursuer).

Related Posts:
Júlio Cortázar: El Perseguidor (The Pursuer)

José Saramago: The Elephant’s Journey

J. M. Ledgard reviews José Saramago's The Elephant's Journey.
The Portuguese writer José Saramago died in June at the age of 87. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, having peaked as a writer later in life. His prose is impish and subtle enough to bear comparison with Italo Calvino and Georges Perec, even if he lacked their scope. Saramago was a Communist. He believed there was a new totalitarianism of multinational companies. “To be a Portuguese Stalinist” well into the 21st century “means you’re simply not living in the real world,” the critic Harold Bloom has said. True enough. Yet when Saramago picked up his pen, a richer world was made.

The Elephant’s Journey,” Saramago’s slender new posthumous novel, is a road trip. There’s no sex, not much violence, no God-awful narrative arc, and the insights arrive as gently as a skiff pulling up to a riverbank. Confounding though it is for me to say (believing as I do the mind of the apparatchik to be the nastiest soup), it would be hard to more highly recommend a novel to be downed in a single draft.

Saramago disliked America and cars — he once said that being in a car was like being in a spaceship that protects you from everything — so his road trip is naturally dustier, with ox carts on sunburnt plains, cuirassiers, swirling mists, wolves and snows. It is 1551. João III of Portugal gives an elephant from his Lisbon menagerie to Archduke Maximilian of Austria. The elephant is called Solomon. His mahout is named Subhro. Together, whispering to each other a tongue known only to them and born of solitude, they journey on foot from Lisbon to Valladolid, to Catalonia, by sea to Genoa, on to Venice, over the Alps, arriving at Innsbruck on the feast day of Epiphany in 1552, before continuing by barge down the rivers Inn and Danube toward Vienna.
Click to read the full article

Alberto Manguel: All Men Are Liars

Steven Poole reviews Alberto Manguel's All Men Are Liars.
Alberto Manguel is a liar. Or so the reader of this book is invited to think, having enjoyed a peculiarly evasive and suspenseful story told by a rather neurotic and unreliable character named "Alberto Manguel", only to see the next narrator exclaim, at the start of her version of the same tale: "Alberto Manguel is an asshole [. . .] No, nothing is true for Manguel unless he's read it in a book."

If Paul Auster (another man, and also, in one of the senses of Manguel's title, another liar) wore a friendly beard and had more of a Latin temperament, he might produce something like this richly hued, melancholy and funny puzzle of a novel. It centres on a group of Argentinian literary expatriates in 1970s Madrid, one of whose number, Alejandro Bevilacqua, has recently died, apparently falling from his balcony on the eve of publication of a novelistic masterpiece. "Alberto Manguel" and three other characters who knew Bevilacqua address their memories of him to a fifth person, a journalist named Terradillos living in France who hopes to piece together the truth of the deceased writer's life.

The accounts are contradictory in crucial details, but the broad picture that emerges is one of a thin, gloomy man (somewhat Baudelairean in aspect) who grows up in Argentina (falling in love with a puppetmaster's daughter), begins to write (lurid scenarios for photo-romances), is imprisoned and tortured (he doesn't know why, but we eventually do), and then escapes to Spain (where he is irresistible to certain women). One of those women is the narrator who denounces "Alberto Manguel", Bevilacqua's lover Andrea, who finds the manuscript hidden among his belongings and secretly takes it to be published. The title is In Praise of Lying. Andrea comments: "Lying: that is the great theme of South American literature."
Click to read the full article

Friday, September 17, 2010

Roberto Bolaño

Michael Greenberg reviews Roberto Bolaño's works recently translated into English, The Insufferable Gaucho, The Return and Antwerp.
The Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño has to be one of the most improbable international literary celebrities since William Burroughs and Henry Miller, two writers whose work Bolaño’s occasionally resembles. His subjects are sex, poetry, death, solitude, violent crime and the desperate glimmers of transcendence that sometimes attend them. The prose is dark, intimate and sneakily touching. His lens is largely (though not literally) autobiographical, and seems narrowly focused at first. There are no sweeping historical gestures in Bolaño. Yet he has given us a subtle portrait of Latin America during the last quarter of the 20th century — a period of death squads, exile, “disappeared” citizens and state-sponsored terror. The nightmarish sense of human life being as discardable as clay permeates his writing.
Readers trying to navigate Bolaño’s gathering body of work may find themselves wondering where to turn: since his death in 2003, 12 of his books have been published in the United States. “The Insufferable Gaucho” would be an excellent place to start. The title story of this collection is one of Bolaño’s most powerful fictions. It is a reimagining of Borges’s story “The South,” an emblematic tale of the schism that has plagued South America’s republics for almost two centuries: between the capital cities with their totems to European culture, and the vast, serenely violent countryside that surrounds them. In Borges’s story, the protagonist has survived a fever that brought him to the brink of death. He sets out from Buenos Aires to convalesce at his ancestral ranch on the Pampas. On arriving, he goes to the general store where a drunken tough lures him into a fight that honor won’t permit him to decline. Clutching a knife he hardly knows how to wield, he walks resignedly and without fear into the death that “he would have chosen or dreamt” had he been given the chance.
Click to read the full article

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cristina García: The Lady Matador's Hotel

Amy Driscoll reviews Cristina García's The Lady Matador's Hotel.
On the first page of Cristina García's new novel, the lady matador stands naked before a mirror, rolling on a pair of long pink stockings as part of her preparatory ritual for the bull-fighting ring.

The ceremony has other steps, too: lighting candles for her mother, eating a single sliced pear -- seeds and all -- and, for extra luck, having silent sex with a stranger two days before a fight.

When she finally steps into the ring, she repeats three words in Spanish and Japanese.

Arrogance. Honor. Death.

The Lady Matador's Hotel is filled with those elements, plus hefty doses of lust, violence and bad intent. It's a ruthless romp through an anonymous Central American capital buffeted by the winds of political turmoil. Suki Palacios -- she of the pink stockings and unusual appetites -- has arrived with her all-male entourage to compete in the first Battle of the Lady Matadors.
Click to read the full article

José Saramago: The Elephant’s Journey

Steven G. Kellman reviews José Saramago's The Elephant’s Journey.
The distance between Lisbon and Vienna is 1,429 miles as the crow flies. As the elephant trudges, it is a more arduous expedition. How do you convey an Asian pachyderm from the Portuguese capital to the seat of the Habsburg empire? Very carefully, especially if the beast is a wedding present from King João III of Portugal to the Archduke Maximilian and his bride, Maria, daughter of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. In a brief prologue to The Elephant's Journey, José Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Laureate who died last June, explains that he learned about this extraordinary transport when, visiting Salzburg, he encountered a set of carvings commemorating the event. He was inspired to write a whimsical novel about how, in 1551, a four-ton elephant named Solomon but renamed Suleiman was brought from Portugal to Spain and then by boat to Italy and up through the Alps to Austria.
Click to read the full article

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cristina García: The Lady Matador's Hotel

John Vernon reviews Cristina García's The Lady Matador's Hotel.
The hotel in “The Lady Matador’s Hotel,” by Cristina García, located in the capital city of an unnamed Central American country, is the luxurious Miraflor. The time frame is a week. And the stories involve a set of global mongrels and expatriates: a Japanese-­Mexican matadora who was raised in Los Angeles and has just arrived for “the first Battle of the Lady Matadors in the Americas”; a suicidal Korean manufacturer of textiles who owns a local maquiladora, Glorious Textiles Unlimited, and whose pregnant mistress is living at the hotel; a lawyer who employs breeder mothers to produce the babies she delivers for adoption to wealthy Americans staying at the hotel; an exiled Cuban poet married to one of those wealthy Americans; an army colonel in town to swap the latest torture and detainment techniques with other thugs from neighboring countries; and an ex-guerrilla whose brother was murdered by the colonel years ago, and who now works as a waitress at the hotel. In six chapters, an “interlude” and an epilogue, their separate stories advance by shuffled increments against the backdrop of a presidential election, insurgent bombs and an impending hurricane.

The result is a kitchen sink of a novel (as in everything but) whose juggled stories, augmented by the obligatory soupçon of magic realism, take on a quality of festive, freakish excess. Yet García keeps the plates spinning. Not all the stories are equally engaging, and not all the characters rise above the level of types, but the cumulative effect is of an appealing yet barely controlled wildness. The control is in the scaffolding — seven days, six main characters, a collage of news items at the end of each chapter — and at times it can seem constraining. But without the constraint the wildness would sputter. At its best, the novel has the energy of an obsessive tango. Or, indeed, a bullfight.
Click to read the full article

Friday, September 10, 2010

José Saramago: The Elephant’s Journey

Richard Eder reviews José Saramago's The Elephant’s Journey.
José Saramago, the Portuguese novelist and Nobelist, has ended his journey with another one: a 16th-century trudge from Lisbon to Vienna by an elephant named Solomon, a present from the Portuguese King João III to Archduke Maximilian, heir to the Holy Roman Empire. “The Elephant’s Journey,” written not long before Saramago’s death in June, displays his unique mix of absurdity, sudden logic, comedy shading to melancholy, and digression that tunnels up into unexpected purpose.
Guided by Subhro, Solomon’s discursive Indian mahout, and escorted by a detachment of Portuguese soldiers, the elephant, who is allowed an occasional discursiveness of his own, travels north to Castelo Rodrigo, crosses into Spain, and makes his way to Valladolid, where he is turned over to Maximilian. The procession, lavishly swollen by Austrian courtiers and troops, continues by sea to Genoa, crosses the Alps over the icy Brenner Pass, and is triumphantly welcomed to Vienna.

The journey is based on a historical event; and perhaps Saramago has forfeited a little of his power by it: His greatest novels invent their own history. “Blindness” is an astonishing parable of what happens when suddenly nobody can see; in “The Stone Raft,” Spain and Portugal break off from Europe and go floating away; in “The History of the Siege of Lisbon,” a proofreader’s mischievous insertion of “not” drastically alters three centuries of Portuguese life. In “Elephant,” the extraordinary story is very roughly tied to the real; that is, it lacks some of the unhampered detonations of Saramago’s magical realism. Nonetheless it is for the most part a delight.
Click to read the full article

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Angel's Game

Terry Mapes reviews Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Angel's Game.
For most of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novel "The Angel's Game" (Anchor, 531 pp., $15.95 paper), you feel like you might just have a masterpiece in your hands.
Then it all comes apart. It begins to seem a little too outrageous, a bit too farfetched. The ending doesn't equal the beginning or most of what comes in between.
Still, it's fun while it lasts. The story is told by David Martin, a gifted writer in Barcelona whose talents have been wasted on pulp novels. Then a mysterious businessman from Paris named Andreas Corelli offers him an incredible amount of money to write a holy text for a new religion -- the details of which don't really matter.
At first it seems like easy money. Gradually Martin comes to realize that he has, quite literally, sold his soul to the devil.
Click to read the full article

Monday, July 05, 2010

Javier Marías: Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico

Charles R. Larson reviews Javier Marías' Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico.
One of Spain’s leading writers, Javier Marías, undertakes quite a flight of the imagination in this skinny little novel—technically a long story or novella—Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico. The fact is that Elvis Presley was never in Acapulco—or at least not during the filming of Fun in Acapulco (1963), his thirteenth film, late in his movie career, and totally formulaic (unless you want to cite the presence of Ursula Andress as providing gravitas to the film). The movie was shot in Hollywood, though obviously some exterior scenes were taken on the assumed location.
What Marías has undertaken is a broad re-envision of what might have happened to Elvis had the film been made in Mexico. The narrative is comparable to, say, Philip Roth’s The Plot against America, which speculates what might have happened to the United States if Franklin Delano Roosevelt had not won reelection in 1940. Obviously, Marías’s scope is nothing of the magnitude of Roth’s speculation of an alternate history for that presidential election. But that hardly matters, since Marías’s narrative is just as profound as Roth’s when the issue becomes societal differences: popular culture and cultural narrow-mindedness.
Click to read the full article

José Saramago: The Elephant's Journey

The Romanian edition of José Saramago's The Elephant's Journey.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Jorge Luis Borges: On Writing

Rivka Galchen reviews Jorge Luis Borges' essay anthology On Writing.
Little is quite as dull as literary worship; this essay on Borges is thus happily doomed. One finds oneself tempted toward learned-sounding inadequacies like: His work combines the elegance of mathematical proof with the emotionally profound wit of Dostoyevsky. Or: He courts paradox so primrosely, describing his Dupin-like detective character as having “reckless perspicacity” and the light in his infinite Library of Babel as being “insufficient, and unceasing.” But see, such worship is pale.
And problematic as well. More than any other 20th-century figure, Borges is the one designated — and often dismissed as — the Platonic ideal of Writer. His outrageous intellect is cited as proof of either his genius or of his bloodless cerebralism.
But Borges did have some mortal qualities. He lived most of his life with his mother. He loved detective and adventure novels. (His first story in English was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.) Though he started to go blind in his 30s, he never learned to read Braille. And in his later years he made some unappealing political remarks about being happy that, following the military overthrow of the Perón government, “gentlemen” were again running the country. (Perón, to be fair, had “promoted” Borges from head of the National Library to head of poultry inspection.) Such remarks are perhaps why he never won the Nobel.
Click to read the full article


The She-Devil in the Mirror from Salvadoran novelist Horacio Castellanos Moya is one of the choices in John O'Connell thriller review roundup.
An intriguing, nuanced thriller set in San Salvador in the early 1990s after the end of the civil war, this was originally published there 10 years ago. Our narrator is a wealthy 30-year-old divorcee, Laura Rivera, whose best friend Olga Maria has just been murdered. In a series of gossipy, increasingly manic rants delivered over a six-week period in a variety of settings – at a wake; on the phone; driving to the cemetery for Olga Maria's funeral – Laura floats her theories and quickly proves herself to be as devious as she is paranoid. The identity of her addressee remains a mystery throughout. It certainly isn't the reader: we're eavesdropping on these monologues, a fact that both tantalises and implicates us. Silver's fine translation sustains tension admirably, though I wondered if Laura was even more objectionable (because easier to locate socially) in the original Spanish.
Click to read the full article

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fernando Pessoa

Ian McDonald on Fernando Pessoa's poetry.
The work of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1953) is hardly known to English-speaking peoples. Most of his life he was a low-level, free-lance commercial correspondent. He reported and wrote about day-to-day transactions in the humdrum world of business.
The routines of his earning career were completely ordinary. They provided him with only a precarious living but gave him ample time for what really was the only thing that mattered to him: poetry. However, very little of his verse was published in his lifetime. His love of writing overwhelmed him and he lived only for that. Publication hardly mattered. It can almost be said that he wrote in strictest secrecy.
After Pessoa’s death vast quantities of unpublished prose and verse were discovered jumbled in a big truck at his sister’s house. Since then sifting through the material, publishing it, discussing and interpreting it has become a growth industry in European academic circles.
No label fits him: symbolist, modernist, existentialist, occultist even – he was all of them at different times and sometimes simultaneously. His poetry is controlled, unsentimental, totally removed from unreflecting spontaneity. Central to it are the mystery and terror of existence and the anguished endeavour to make sense of oneself in relation to the universe. Why in God’s name or for no reason at all did the universe come into existence? If life ends in blank nothingness what is its purpose – to what end do we potter around for 70 years or so and then disappear?
Click to read the full article

Interview with Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Maya Jaggi interviews Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez.
There is a museum in downtown Bogotá, Colombia's drizzly capital set high in the Andes, where a lawyer's pinstripe suit stands on display in a glass case – pristine, but for two bullet holes in the back. It belonged to Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a liberal presidential candidate whose assassination in April 1948 sparked the Bogotázo, riots that set the city on fire. The riots ushered in 10 years of blood-letting between liberal and conservative sympathisers and, as peasants formed guerrilla movements, spawned the ensuing decades of South America's longest-running civil war.
For Juan Gabriel Vásquez, among the most inventive and erudite of Colombia's emerging generation of novelists, the assassination was the "defining episode of our history – our own JFK". Those gun shots were "our coming of age – when Colombia was welcomed into the cold war. And we still haven't got to the bottom of it; nobody knows who killed Gaitán."
Novelists leapt into the breach, "while the bodies were still falling" in the 1940s and 50s. But Colombia's most famous writer, Gabriel García Márquez – in the capital during the riots – dismissed them as a crude "inventory of dead people", crafted without art. "He complained writers hadn't taken the time to learn how to write novels," Vásquez says. "It's not enough to have the material; you have to have the narrative strategy, or you fail."
Vásquez, aged 37, has taken that lesson to heart. His talk bristles with quotations from writers he has ingested, rather as, in his words, the Nobel laureate from Aracataca "hired and fired" Faulkner and Hemingway. Good writers, Vásquez believes, "control their own influences – it's not involuntary". Hailing from an urban landscape of skyscrapers and mountain mist, he found the ruses that conjured the sweltering Caribbean plantations of Macondo were no use to him. He chose mentors in Joyce, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow. Joseph Conrad was key, particularly "his obsessive idea that novels go into dark places and come back with the news. It's not necessarily geographical," he says, "but shedding light on dark places of the soul."
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Premio Elías Nandino 2010

Daniel Bencomo won the 2010 edition of the Premio Elías Nandino 2010 with his book "Lugar de residencia" with poems inspired by the desert and specially one of its inhabitants, the ants.
This prize is awarded to young Mexican poets under 30 years.

José Saramago: The Notebook

Tom Payne reviews José Saramago's The Notebook.
Not everybody likes winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Becket thought it a catastrophe; Doris Lessing made it clear that she could have done without it; when the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska won it, Seamus Heaney said: “Poor Wislawa!” These days it seems almost unwriterly to win the most honourable prize a writer can win. Harold Pinter seemed all too chuffed. But why not? It tends to be a lifetime achievement award.
The Portuguese novelist José Saramago, who died last week, received it in 1998 for the work of two prolific decades. Not even the Nobel Prize was going to stop him. Like Pinter, he welcomed it. He tended not to show off without self-deprecation, but in his last published work, The Notebook, he let slip, thrice, that he was pleased to have won the prize.
Good for him. Saramago was a politically committed writer, and was able to use his global fame to plead cases dear to him. Or, as he put it in The Notebook: “It is true that I am better known as a writer, but there are also some people who… believe what I say as a common citizen is of interest to them.” And for a year, until last August, he wrote a blog.
Intellectuals in their ninth decade are allowed to write blogs, although, given that Saramago often wrote page-length paragraphs, he was never likely to do Twitter.
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Roberto Bolaño

Robert Leiter on Roberto Bolaño
Roberto Bolaño's books are suddenly everywhere, which is a fortuitous development for readers who like adventurous fiction. This literary stroke of luck is thanks in good part to the persistence of the estimable and always forward-thinking New Directions publishers. Farrar Straus and Giroux somehow beat out ND for the rights to two of the late Chilean-born novelist's longest and perhaps flashiest works, The Savage Detectives and 2666, and so received considerable media attention when the volumes were published. But it's been ND that's stood by Bolaño for years now, issuing the bulk of his smaller-scale, though highly representative works; and it's now filling in the spaces in the writer's prolific, if brief, career -- he died at age 50 -- by releasing some of his lesser-known prose pieces.
When New Directions brought out Bolaño's scathing, funny Nazi Literature in the Americas early last year, I wrote then that the novelist, a tried-and-true postmodernist (generally not my favorite type of writer), had struck me not only as an exciting talent, but perhaps one of the most profound artists of the second half of the 20th century.
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Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Prince of Mist

Nicholas Tucker reviews Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Prince of Mist.
Author of The Shadow of the Wind, the most-read Spanish novel since Don Quixote, Carlos Ruiz Zafón began his writing career eight years before with the first of four stories aimed at teenage readers. The opening volume, The Prince of Mist, now appears in an English edition, fluently translated by Lucia Graves, with the others following in the next three years. It won the prestigious Edebé Prize for Young Adult Fiction on publication in 1993, and with its companion novels has sold over three million copies. So does this first effort promise to be yet another sensation outside Spain along with Zafón's The Angel's Game, which is currently selling in shed-loads all over Europe?
Rambling Gothic novels whose sub-plots contain yet more sub-plots take up a lot of paper, but in these early days Zafón too often rushes his literary fences in his effort to convey as much terror as possible in a cramped space. Writing for a younger audience has also led him into providing various over-anxious explanations as the plot develops, which negate any gradual build-up of tension against a background made even more fearful precisely because nothing within it ever seems totally clear. Even so, the main story remains gripping enough, revolving around such hardy perennials as a haunted house on the coast and the discovery of old home movies that indicate the evil that had happened before and is now in the process of happening again.
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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hernán Vanoli: Varadero y Habana Maravillosa

Pablo Toledo reviews Hernán Vanoli's Varadero y Habana Maravillosa.
Throughout the book, something is always itching and whispering threatening yet indistinct words from a spot we cannot quite place, let alone reach. There are always missing pieces to the puzzle, a gap at the core of the story that is not explained, not even hinted at. Unlike the worldbuilding techniques of conventional sci-fi, bent on presenting coherent, rock-solid worlds, the open ends are everything here.
This tantalizing suggestion of the dark, this careful management of (mis)information, is Vanoli’s most daring and rewarding trait, and makes the stories profoundly unsettling: that, and the fact that they strike so close to home, that their tone is spot-on, that the characters and plots are like so many kicks in the teeth. Every sentence strikes the nail square on the head, every element builds the story, every story is a powerful statement.
Besides gritty and hardhitting, these stories are truly and powerfully political: no explicit references or commentary (plenty of that at Vanoli’s blogs, and, but a texture of reality imbricated with a social fibre, the presence of political struggle in its everyday dimension. Like the alterations of reality, this political reading is so organic to the stories that it does not need stating: there are no manifestos and yet a point is made; there are no epic gestures but that makes it epic.
So far, Hernán Vanoli was available as a name in collective short story anthologies: in his first solo flight, he proves a rigorous, original, uncompromising writer with an unmistakeable voice. At 30, that’s saying something.
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The 100 Best Books in the History of Literature

The editors of The Norwegian Book Clubs asked the 100 authors to nominate ten books that, in their opinion, are the ten best and most central works in world literature.
The list of author attending the election included John Irving, Salman Rushdie, John le Carré, Nadine Gordimer, Milan Kundera, Christa Wolf, Carlos Fuentes, V.S. Naipaul, Paul Auster, A.S. Byatt, Ben Okri, Orhan Pamuk, Fay Weldon, Wole Soyinka, Bei Dao, Nawal El Saadawi, Yvonne Vera, Astrid Lindgren, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Norman Mailer and others
Among the 100 most voted we can find Jorge Luis Borges' Collected Fictions, Federico García Lorca's Gypsy Ballads, Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude
and Love in the Time of Cholera, João Guimarães Rosa's The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet, Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, José Saramago's Blindness and the most voted Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote.

Here's the full (unsorted) list:
Chinua Achebe
Hans Christian Andersen
Jane Austen
Honoré de Balzac
Samuel Beckett
Giovanni Boccaccio
Jorge Luis Borges
Emily Brontë
Albert Camus
Paul Celan
Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Geoffrey Chaucer
Joseph Conrad
Dante Alighieri
Charles Dickens
Denis Diderot
Alfred Döblin
Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky
George Eliot
Ralph Ellison
William Faulkner
Gustave Flaubert
Federico García Lorca
Gabriel García Márquez

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Nikolaj Gogol
Günter Grass
João Guimarães Rosa
Knut Hamsun
Ernest Hemingway
Henrik Ibsen

James Joyce
Franz Kafka
Yasunari Kawabata
Nikos Kazantzakis
D.H. Lawrence
Halldór K. Laxness
Giacomo Leopardi
Doris Lessing
Astrid Lindgren
Lu Xun

Naguib Mahfouz
Thomas Mann
Herman Melville
Michel de Montaigne
Elsa Morante
Toni Morrison
Shikibu Murasaki
Robert Musil
Vladimir Nabokov

George Orwell
Fernando Pessoa
Edgar Allan Poe
Marcel Proust
François Rabelais
Juan Rulfo
Jalal ad-din Rumi
Salman Rushdie
Sheikh Musharrif ud-din Sadi
  • The Orchard
Tayeb Salih
José Saramago
William Shakespeare
Laurence Sterne
Italo Svevo
Jonathan Swift
Lev Tolstoj
Anton P. Chekhov
Mark Twain
Walt Whitman
Virginia Woolf
Marguerite Yourcenar

More details here.