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After Pessoa’s death vast quantities of unpublished prose and verse were discovered jumbled in a big truck at his sister’s house.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?
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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.
Source: informador.com.mx

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, www.volque-tero.blogspot.com and www.lama-quiladora.blogspot.com), 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.