Monday, August 29, 2011

Enrique Krauze: Redeemers

A look at literary and political figures in Latin America.

Francisco Goldman: Say Her Name

Francisco Goldman's fourth novel is based on a real tragedy in which his wife, Aura Estrada, broke her neck while body-surfing along the Mexican coast, and died. She had recently turned 30. They had known each other for four years and would have celebrated their second wedding anniversary if she had lived another month.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Quim Monzó: Guadalajara

Three pages into Quim Monzó's new short story collection, the opening tale's seven-year-old protagonist makes a startling discovery: everyone over the age of nine in his family of carpenters is missing the ring finger of his left hand, and it's not by accident. Welcome to "Family Life," which fits within the morbid boundaries of Guadalajara—a realm where fables are subverted

Monday, August 22, 2011

José Saramago: Death with Interruptions

I've just finished José Saramago's Death with Interruptions, a novel which I didn't consider as strong as Blindness, but which I felt, nevertheless, accomplished what it set out to do: which is to transform death into a human experience.
Like Blindness, which captures the shock of a community confronting a sudden plague of sightlessness, Death with Interruptions takes as its subject a cataclysmic shift: in a remote nation, death takes a holiday, and for seven months, not a single member of this country expires.

Goncalo Tavares: Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique

In the very first scene of this book, a young Lenz Buchmann is instructed by his father to "do" a young servant girl in front of him. The command is issued without qualification, and there is no recourse for Lenz except to follow it. From this incident onward the novel spins forth a philosophy of strength, of power, of competence, of morality, or the lack thereof, that is alienating to say the least.
Lenz is a skilled surgeon, who does not operate out of compassion or to save lives, but because he is good at being a surgeon, and it is simply a side effect of his competent practice that lives are saved. Lenz regularly invites beggars into his home, with the implied promise of food or money, and then drags out their stay, demeaning them in conversation and having sex with his wife in front of them. But at his brother's funeral—the brother that is his opposite in many ways—Lenz witnesses the influence that public figures hold, a renown and regard that even as a celebrated surgeon he could never possess. And so begins his foray into politics.

Gabriel García Márquez: Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera was probably one of the first books I read that introduced me to a South American sensibility, having been immersed in a traditional English A-level. That sense of reality slightly altered, not quite magical realism but not life as we know it, despite the faded grandeur and trappings of a post-colonial state.
Re-reading it a few years ago, unsurprisingly I struggled to recapture the same sense of wonder, in busy working life, reading snatches in 10-minute tube journeys and trying to keep up with the interweaving narratives from across the generations. But perhaps what my jaded adult mind appreciated more was the wry humour in the narrative voices, a sense of the fun Márquez is poking at the pretensions of his characters and their little world.

Friday, August 19, 2011

José Saramago: Cain

Abel and Cain have each made an offering to God. Abel's is accepted, Cain's rejected. In a fit of jealousy, Cain murders his brother. When God asks where Abel has got to, Cain replies tetchily, "Am I my brother's keeper?" God discovers the murder, and Cain is punished. He will live, but he will be forever marked, and condemned to wander the earth.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Horacio Castellanos Moya: Tyrant Memory

Horacio Castellanos Moya's Tyrant Memory is a book of revolution, of tanks rolling through city streets, of intrigue, imprisonment, and exile, of torn families and firing squads — but it will not for that reason be passed around dorm rooms, nor is it likely to feature on Glenn Beck's old chalkboard. In El Salvador in April 1944, the dictatorship of Maximiliano Herna´ndez Marti´nez, a fascist who welcomed the advance of Hitler, suffered first a coup, then a general strike. Led by a coalition of patrician families, businesses, and banks, the strike succeeded in toppling Martinez, nicknamed "The Warlock," and winning its general demands: greater liberty, stable export prices, and closer ties with the USA.
Vive la Revolution! Revolutions, it seems, like recessions, take many forms, not many of them communist and none of them purely "from below." The rich are in revolt at least as often as the poor, against others of their class and, more familiar to those of us in the United States, against the social and political pretensions of the poor themselves. At any rate, that stubborn image of the great unwashed leaving their humble chores — as maids and coal-miners and such — to topple statues and write inspirational graffiti, is not a great deal of help.
In Tyrant Memory, recently translated by Katherine Silver and released by New Directions, the poor aren't even given a chance. The novel begins in the diaries of Dona Haydée Aragon, a patrician mother whose husband Pericles has been jailed for writing polemics against the Tyrant. Over the course of the novel, she gradually transforms from a loyal wife with connections into a zealous political agent. This is, of course, the glorious transformation prophesied by a great deal of revolutionary agitprop: that in the moment of struggle we will cease to be ourselves. Read More

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

José Saramago: Cain

Cain is a Saramago novel that takes his oft-used "what if" set-up—what if people stopped dying within a geographic region (Death with Interruptions), or what if everyone in a town became blind (Blindness)—and asks, what if cain (Saramago doesn't capitalize names in this book) were able to tell his story? This is cain of cain and abel, the first two children of adam and eve, the first murderer and victim. Clearly Saramago has a concern for mythos and storytelling; he invokes lilith, by legend adam's first wife who didn't work out so well, the breeder of demons. Saramago taps into the archetype of the man cursed to not die but wander eternally. And Saramago uses time travel. cain is unstuck from linear time and jumps from key incidences in ahistorical order, from mt. sinai to abraham just about to sacrifice his son, to noah . . . with stops in there to the story of job, the destruction of sodom and gomorrah. It is this last narrative device which seems both necessary for Saramago's purposes and which leaves at least this reader with the opinion that Saramago has left behind story telling for a flat polemic. Read More

Friday, August 12, 2011

Carlos Franz: The Absent Sea

"Where were you Mamá, when all those horrible things were taking place in your city?"  This question, put to Laura by her daughter Claudia, is what has drawn The Absent Sea's protagonist back to the fictional town of Pampa Hundida at the start of novelist Carlos Franz's exploration of the turbulent aftermath of Chile's 1973 coup. Read More

Roberto Bolaño: The Skating Rink

The Chilean novelist and poet is best known for the novels The Savage Detectives and 2666: his "supernovel", in part an elegy to the real murder victims of a Mexican town. Read More

Gonçalo M. Tavares on man, machines and society

At euronews Elza Gonçalves speaks with Gonçalo M. Tavares on man, machines and society.
His book, Learning to Pray in the Age of Technology, is coming out from Dalkey Archive Press this summer. Read More

Moacyr Scliar: Kafka’s Leopards

I was going to write a review of Kafka's Leopards by the recently deceased Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar, and then I got around to reading the piece that translator Thomas Beebee wrote for us on Scliar, his writings, and Kafka's Leopards and realized that there was not much enlightenment that I could offer on any of these topics that Thomas had not already covered. So I come to you today, humbly, from a place of little knowledge, and suggest that you read Thomas's wonderful piece on all things surrounding Kafka's Leopards and then go ahead and read the book itself.
Running at under 100 pages, Kafka's Leopards tells the story of Mousy, the logistics of which you can basically read from start to finish on the back of the book, but which is told with much more love on the part of Scliar. In brief, Mousy is a Brazilian Jew who is summoned to carry out a plot on the part of Trotsky which involves going to Prague and receiving and decoding a text. Mousy manages to mess this up and instead ends up with a short text from Franz Kafka himself, concerning leopards.
Read More