Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Ildefonso Falcones novel

Random House reported Wednesday that Ildefonso Falcones will publish a new historical novel during the first quarter of 2013, the novel his to be published in Castilian by Grijalbo and Catalan by Rosa dels Vents.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Early Mexican photojournalism in Mexico City Museum

More than eleven thousand photographs remained stored in the family closet of Manuel Ramos, one of the pioneers of Mexican photojournalism. It took almost half a century for the Ramos files to be brought to light. Part of this files, that show the advancement of the Mexican Revolution, the centenary celebrations of Independence, the Cristero War and the modern architecture of the city, will be presented at the next exhibition which opens on Wednesday, October 10 at the Mexico City Museum.
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Interview with Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira

Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira talks about the creation of his work, "Gourd," that bursts from a wall in MOCA's newly completed uptown home.
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Isabel Allende receives Denmark's top literary award

Chilean novelist Isabel Allende receives the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award from Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik.
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Monday, October 08, 2012

Interrupted innocence

Repression, discipline and religion are the cornerstones of "Las poseídas", the audacious new novel from Betina Gonzalez.

“Festival de la palabra” literary festival celebrates Spanish language

When acclaimed writers, poets and journalists from Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain get together for a literary festival, says Puerto Rican writer Mayra Santos-Febres, the conversation is not necessarily about particular books or essays.
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Mexican Novelist Daniel Krauze Wins Literature Prize

The novel "Dias de Lava" (Days of Lava) by Mexican writer Daniel Krauze was honored in the inaugural edition of the Nuevas Letras Prize, awarded by the Planeta publishing corporation and the Sanborns Group.
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Peruvian poet Antonio Cisneros died

The Peruvian poet Antonio Cisneros died Saturday at age 69. Cisneros, also a journalist, screenwriter and professor, was awarded the Pablo Neruda Poetry Ibero-American  award in 2010.

He was one of the most important Latin American poets, and received, in 1968, with his poem 'Canto ceremonial contra un oso hormiguero' the Casa de Las Americas prize, which catapulted him to international recognition.

Cisneros died at his home in Lima, victim of lung cancer.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Premio Grijalbo de Novela 2012

Mexican writer Guillermo Fadanelli won last Thursday the Premio Grijalbo de Novela 2012 for his novel "Las mujeres muertas" (The dead women).

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Sex is dirty and innocent, reproduction, monstrous

The provocative Colombian writer Fernando Vallejo ensures that overpopulation is the great tragedy of humanity and that politics is a gangster system...
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On the Road

Director Walter Salles talks to Margaret Pomeranz about jazz, bebop and On the Road, his new movie inspired by the life of writer Jack Kerouac.
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Junot Díaz

The geek hero who gave us The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao returns with a new collection of linked stories, This Is How You Lose Her. Read More

Monday, August 06, 2012

Carlos Fuentes: Vlad

Jeff Vandermeer reviews Carlos Fuentes lastest novel "Vlad".

When Carlos Fuentes died in May at age 83, he left behind an impressive legacy and an eclectic body of work. Novels like the sprawling, Joycean "Terra Nostra" placed him at the center of the Latin American Boom of the 1970s, alongside such greats as Cortázar and García Márquez. But later books were often just as ambitious, returning to themes like the corruption of ideals.

The short novel "Vlad" (first published in Spanish as part of Fuentes's 2004 collection "Inquieta Compañía") provides ample evidence of Fuentes's powerful abilities. The book documents the "awful adventure" of Yves Navarro after his wife helps a respected lawyer find a house in Mexico City for a mysterious European refugee, Vladimir Radu, later revealed to be the infamous historical figure turned vampire Vlad the Impaler.

Dark humor dominates the novel's early pages, with Navarro mystified by the client's requests for a house that is "remote ... easy to defend against intruders ... with a ravine out back." The client also wants blackened windows and an escape tunnel. During Navarro's initial visit, he notices that "a great number of drains ran along the walls of the ground floor, as though our client was expecting a flood any day now." Radu wears a ridiculous wig and glue-on mustache, and his manservant's demeanor owes no small debt to Marty Feldman's performance in "Young Frankenstein."

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Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramirez turns 70

An interview with Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramirez, winner of the Premio Iberoamericano de Letras "José Donoso" in 2011, and the Alfaguara Prize in 1998, where he talks about his career and projects.

La escritura para mí es como una fuerza vital que me abre una perspectiva de trabajo todos los días. Tengo entusiasmo por la escritura y, por tanto, entusiasmo por la vida, de manera que diría que me encuentro en mi mejor momento

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Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Prisoner of Heaven

Yvonne Zipp reviews Carlos Ruiz Zafon's "The Prisoner of Heaven"

"The Prisoner of Heaven" is Zafon's third novel set around Sempere & Sons bookstore and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a fabled repository in Barcelona where people are allowed to choose one volume in their lifetime. Oh, you could digitize all those rare editions, but where's the drama in that?

Zafon claims you don't have to read his books in chronological order, but "The Prisoner of Heaven" would be a confusing place to start. This slender novel provides some answers to what happened to David Martin, the writer who made a Faustian bargain in "The Angel's Game" (2009), and to the mother of Daniel, the young hero in "The Shadow of the Wind" (2004).

Each of the novels in this series revolves around a particular rare book. This time, "The Count of Monte Cristo" gets pride of place. Several key plot points parallel Dumas's classic of wrongful imprisonment and revenge.

It's Christmas 1957, and customers are scarce at Sempere & Sons; bills are coming due. But then a man with a porcelain hand enters the store and buys the most expensive book, an edition of "The Count of Monte Cristo." He inscribes it: "For Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from among the dead and holds the key to the future."

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Chavela Vargas

The lady in the red poncho, the Shaman, the legendary Chavela Vargas (San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica, 1919) died yesterday in Cuernavaca, at age 93 in consequence of respiratory complications.

Friday, August 03, 2012

A hundred years of Virgilio Piñera

Mario López-Goicoechea writes about Cuban author Virgilio Piñera

Virgilio Domingo Piñera Llera was born in Cárdenas, western Cuba, on 4 August 1912 – 100 years ago tomorrow. Nothing in his normal upbringing (his father worked as a public servant and his mother was a teacher) could predict that he would one day become one of Cuban literature's trailblazers. But from an early age, Piñera was an avid reader; among the books he considered essential reading were À la Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust, and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This capacity to draw inspiration from different genres was fundamental in the development of his career and unlike the sesquipedalian Lezama Lima, author of the masterpiece Paradiso, Piñera combined Cuban vernacular with more refined language.

In the same week that the anglophone world mourned one of its literary giants, Gore Vidal, it is perhaps serendipitous that in Latin America we're celebrating the centenary of an author of equal stature. Like Vidal, Piñera was known for his caustic wit and acerbic tongue. This earned him a reputation for being difficult, capricious and snobbish. And like the American controversialist, he was a prolific writer: he left behind more than 20 plays, three novels, tomes of short stories and a vast number of poems. In 1955, he co-founded the magazine Ciclón, a journal exploring trends such as surrealism and the theatre of the absurd through their literary, aesthetic, philosophical and psychoanalytical concerns.

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The past was better

With the luxuriant prose that marks his style, Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa displays here a nostalgic reflection of the supposed global loss of a "high culture" for minorities.

Time to read

There are two basic ways to find time to read (and this, of course, applies to all other activities). On the one hand, you can assign a fixed period of time to read this, such as a half hour just before bedtime. But if you really do not think you cannot do that, you can try to steal time from other activities.

1.    Think of all those little things that don't really give you anything. Count down the time you spend on social networks, for example, you may be surprised of how slowly it builds up and you will probably find that you spend a lot more than what you would like to admit. The same is true for email, mobile, or TV. Are you sure you would not spend ten minutes of that time reading?

2.    Keep a book at hand. Find that there are a lot of small moments everyday in which you can read while doing tasks that require little of your attention (boiling water, wait for a bathtub  to fill, to brush your teeth!). Or read while walking.  For all of this these they  are books either small and easy to handle, or a electronic reader.

3.    Another good idea is to convert the reading into something familiar, whether with a partner (read each other a paragraph or a couple of verses before bedtime can be fun and interesting, or use the time spent together  watching television to read a book) or children (this also promotes a healthy habit of reading them from an early age).

4.    Some people spend time reading when going to the gym. Sounds great to exercise the body and mind at once, either on a stationary bike, an elliptical or a treadmill, but I wonder if this allows us to make a proper cardiovascular exercise. It might be better to take an audio book, which is also highly recommended for walks or car. And of course the way to and from the work done by subway or bus is well suited to reading, either on paper or electronically. If you are a student, take advantage of the quiet moments between classes, it is clear that everything is useful to take the book everywhere we go, that we have on hand at any time.

5.    It is also helpful to remind ourselves from time to time what we've read and what we want to read, to motivate us to keep the habit of every day reading. You can have a list you carry on you or on your computer, share your most recent readings on the Internet or, better yet, form a book club with your friends. Make reading a social act is a very efficient way to re-incorporate into our lives.

6.    On the other hand, there are places that cry out for the company of a good book (and if the book is something we really want to read, something to enjoy, not that serious and highly recommended book we all have on the shelf to look good but we never open, we will be more encouraged to do so). Highlights for, of course, the bathroom, which could do with having a cabinet or shelf just for our daily reading.

7.    If you still cannot encourage yourself to pick up a book now, bring it up as a challenge to start slowly, with just five minutes a day, then you can go casting an ever greater amount of time. You can also challenge friends and family to get a certain number of books read per month or a year, and find out how many minutes a day you would need to achieve your goal.

As you can see, the excuse "I have no time" is no longer valid, so grant yourself the privilege of enriching your day with a good read. You will not regret.

"Girl from Ipanema" is 50 years old

"Olha que coisa mais linda/ Mais cheia de graça/ É ela menina/ Que vem e que passa".
It was a club in Rio de Janeiro, in August 2, 1962, that these words were first heard. It's been 50 years and "the meeting between the beauty of music and the beauty of the muse" made the Girl from Ipanema known for several generations all over the world. A song that, for lack of birds, only started in the second draft and, incidentally, was born bossa nova, but adapts to any other musical style.

Camões, the dog that inspired José Saramago died

Jose Saramago Foundation announced the death of the water dog Camões, which inspired the writer to imagine the faithful ally of the potter protagonist of his novel "The Cave".

Jaime Bayly concludes his trilogy "Morirás mañana" (You will die tomorrow)

Peruvian writer Jaime Bayly concludes his popular trilogy "Morirás mañana" (You will die tomorrow) with "Escupirán sobre mi tumba" (They will spit on my grave), a novel full of irony and grotesque characters who find death at the hands of the infamous murderer/writer Javier Garces.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Poetry of Antonio Machado

Stephen Akey writes about the poetry of Antonio Machado

Big themes: God, belief, love, death, solitude, time, Spain. But Machado wrote about small things as well, and my favorite poem of his concerns something of monumental, so to speak, insignificance: the common housefly. Despite its tightly rhymed octosyllabics and half-lines, the tone of "Las moscas" is relaxed and conversational; Machado might have titled it "My Life with Flies." The life he describes from infancy to fidgety boyhood to dreamy youth to disillusioned adulthood is so unspectacular as to be all lives, even if the family parlor mentioned in the third stanza happened to be in a palace in Seville. (The Machados were impecunious but highly cultured.) In contrast to the archetypal imagery of the seasons of life and their attendant objects, Machado particularizes the flies with their hairy legs bouncing off the windowpanes. Where we would expect to find disgust, however, he evokes something like enchantment. There's enough real horror out there (and inside our heads) without having to work up any literary anguish over some houseflies buzzing around. Besides, in their acrobatic ubiquity, they really are rather amazing. How can you not look?

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Carlos Fuentes: Vlad

Heather Cleary reviews Carlos Fuentes's last novel "Vlad".

The figure has again been cast in a contemporary mold, this time by the late Carlos Fuentes, the celebrated author of dozens of books of fiction and nonfiction, including Where the Air is Clear (1958), Terra Nostra (1975), for which he received the prestigious Xavier Villaurrutia and Romulo Gallegos prizes, and The Old Gringo (1985). Nor is it the first time Fuentes has dabbled in the occult: his 1962 novella Aura—to name just one prominent example—uses the supernatural machinations of a solitary old woman as a lens through which to examine the intersection of personal and national history, and the sometimes porous borders of the self.

Vlad, the last novel Fuentes published before his death this past May, is told from the perspective of Yves Navarro, a partner at a Mexico City law firm who seems to have it all: the career, the house, the adoring wife, the adorable daughter, and the respect of his politically influential employer, Don Eloy Zurinaga. The latter asks Navarro to help an old friend from the Sorbonne (whom he met "back when law, like good manners, was learned in French") purchase a home in advance of his arrival in the Distrito Federal. It is a simple assignment, well beneath his qualifications, but Navarro is the only attorney available at the moment, and it just so happens that his wife, Asunción, is a real estate agent. Nothing, really, could be more convenient. There are just one or two eccentricities to accommodate: all the windows of the residence are to be blacked out and a tunnel should join its interior with a ravine out back. None of this, oddly, gives Navarro or his wife significant pause.

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Sergio Chejfec: The Planets

Mythili G. Rao reviews Sergio Chejfec's "The Planets".

The Planets considers the impact of friendship—and its loss—in cosmic terms. The novel unfolds in Buenos Aires, in the shadow of M's sudden abduction during the state campaign of terrorism of the 1970s. Chejfec's narrator—a peculiarly opaque figure who is at once idiosyncratic and exacting—traces his emotional trajectory from the moment a mutual friend calls to let him know about M's kidnapping ("This friend, named A, sounded like an idiot.  How could he say 'to let me know?' (Someone, someone else was speaking through him; he could not be saying that.") he remembers) to his chance encounter, years later, with M's mother on calle Acevdo She has been hollowed out from years of grief and they do not have much to say to one another, but their meeting is laden with symbolic significance.
Years before, M's disappearance in the midst of Argentina's "Dirty War" had paralyzed his parents; they could respond only with "disorientation, dishevelment and a particular vacillation." In the end they are unable to organize a search for their son. Because of his parents' passivity, M's name—which the reader never learns—is absent from newspaper accounts of the missing, or from flyers or banners rallying relatives of "the disappeared"; the anonymity only deepens the sense of loss.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mario Vargas Llosa: The Dream of the Celt

Roberto Ignacio Díaz reviews Mario Vargas Llosa's The Dream of the Celt.

In the late '60s, at the height of Latin America's literary boom, Vargas Llosa was one of the region's new stars. He authored daringly experimental novels, such as "The Time of the Hero" and "The Green House," whose intricate narrative devices challenged readers even as they renewed the art of fiction. Decades later, "The Dream of the Celt" is quite traditional in form. Not surprisingly, Victor Hugo - to whose novel, "Les Misérables," he devoted a book - remains one of Vargas Llosa's heroes. What is lost in literary craft is gained in political clarity.

Like Hugo's characters, Casement too dreams of a better world, in this case one devoid of colonial rule. As it moves from continent to continent, "The Dream of the Celt" suggests a new literary cartography in which Ireland, despite its temperate climate, is not unlike the tropical lands exploited by empires. This spatial expansion has a historical dimension as well. As in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," allusions to the Roman Empire abound in Vargas Llosa's text, whose hero imagines Roman legionnaires marching on the Caledonian Road outside his prison.

Curiously, though, the novel seems to have little to say about Ireland itself beyond the immediacy of politics and allusions to its fabled past. The text's most affecting words, in the epilogue, are by Yeats, not Vargas Llosa. Then again, given the novel's title, that's perhaps best. The ancient Celtic land, for Casement and Vargas Llosa's readers alike, remains an impossible dream.

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Mario Vargas Llosa: The Dream of the Celt

Richard Eder reviews Mario Vargas Llosa's The Dream of the Celt
Vargas Llosa gives a painful account of Casement’s tormented indecisions, switches of plans, and stumbles over his own feet. He also describes numerous sexual encounters with young men. Some, presumably, are drawn from the so-called Black Diaries, circulated by the British government to diminish sympathy for him. For many years these were denounced as forgeries; a few years ago an independent group of experts analyzed the handwriting and text and pronounced them genuine. Vargas Llosa, without mentioning the study, agrees that they seem authentic, while suggesting that much of the contents were more fantasy than fact.
Fictionalized history is a perilous genre, and not often done well. Tolstoy, Stendhal, and Hilary Mantel are shining examples of how it can extend itself into a new dimension. Vargas Llosa’s attempt here is more a matter of embroidery.
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Monday, July 30, 2012

Argentine writer Hector Tizon dies at 82

Author of more then twenty novels, died in the city of Jujuy in northern Argentina. The writer was exiled in 1976 and until 1982 lived in Spain.
"Nací por accidente —¿acaso no todos nacemos de ese modo?— en una remota provincia de este vasto y despoblado país, en un hotel a cuyas aguas termales mi madre había ido en busca de remedio para sus males."
Read the obituary in El País

Interview with  Hector Tizon in Ñ Magazine - "The traveler who stole love letters"

Jorge Luis Borges: Ficciones

Jake Arnott's book of a lifetime.

Like many of my generation, I first encountered him in the Penguin edition of Labyrinths, a collection of stories, essays, parables and poetry. An excellent compendium, it's a sort of collection of collections which I find a little frustrating (although it mirrors his theme of recursiveness). More recently, there has been the reissue of all of his short stories: Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley. But this new translation, commissioned by his estate after his death, has proved controversial. The battle over Borges's legacy in English has become as Daedalian as one of his faux literary essays. It's hard to know where to begin rereading.

Borges's first appearance in Anglo-Saxon culture was a story that ran in a 1948 edition of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. "The Garden of Forking Paths" is a prescient attempt to incorporate quantum ideas into fiction, with uncertainty principles and multiple outcomes. It was to have a massive influence in the SF world as well as in more "literary" circles, and proof that Borges himself could easily exist in two states at once: in "high culture" and a pulp magazine.

So the only way to approach him is on one's own terms, and to have the will bent by the master. And over the years I've found his writing has changed as I have. My Spanish is just about good enough for me to slowly navigate my own translation; maybe now I'm ready to really begin. So his most famous collection, Ficciones, could be the book to take me through the rest of my years (though it is actually two collections in one, but you'd expect that, wouldn't you?). There's plenty to keep me occupied: writers, dreamers, heretics, young men with impossible memories, other worlds revealed by secret encyclopedias, traitors transformed by betrayal, conspirators that plot their own downfall: 17 pieces, none longer than 25 pages; none shorter than a lifetime.

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Mario Vargas Llosa: Dream of the Celt

Julius Purcell reviews Mario Vargas Llosa's Dream of the Celt.

The life of Roger Casement – the former British consul turned Easter Rising traitor – is ripe for fictional treatment, but it struggles to take shape in this clumsy account

He saw Congolese slave workers with hands and genitals hacked off, and later reported on indigenous Peruvians burned alive or drowned. He returned to Europe, took part in the failed 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, and was hanged in Pentonville prison. With a potted history this extraordinary, it's a wonder more novelists haven't taken up the tale of colonialist-turned-traitor Roger Casement. But fictionalising a life this complex has its pitfalls, and Mario Vargas Llosa's new novel (his first translated into English since winning the Nobel prize in 2010) staggers at times under the weight of research.

But first, let's give due credit. Principally remembered for the homosexual diaries used to undermine his reputation shortly before his execution as a traitor, Roger Casement has long awaited a writer of the stature of Vargas Llosa to focus on the real legacy of his life: how working as a British consul in the early 1900s, Casement's reports on colonial abuses in the Belgian Congo and in Peru were remarkable early exercises in international justice. Casement's journey from colonialist stalwart to Irish rebel was also bound up with some major events of literary modernism. It was on his Congo travels that he got to know Joseph Conrad, who was in turn mulling over the novella that would become Heart of Darkness. Later, Casement's doomed role in the Easter Rising instructed WB Yeats in "the terrible beauty" of martyrdom.

With raw material like this, we might have hoped for something like Pat Barker's Regeneration series, a gripping account shorn of historical cliches and bringing an era vividly to life. But Vargas Llosa hobbles his story from the start. Compelling moments are spoiled by clumsy exposition and a stubborn adherence to the mantra of tell-don't-show. "The same old story. The never-ending story," reflects Casement wearily at one point, a lament many readers might share. Vargas Llosa opts for repeatedly depicting similar atrocities, rather than selecting the illuminating detail. I lost count of the times variants of "scars on their backs, buttocks and legs" cropped up, but found the replication of Casement's meticulous note-taking deadened rather than heightened the horror.

What makes the novel readable is the character of Casement himself. A shy man, he does not baulk from facing down his enemies and, while shrinking from the abuses of power, can pull rank if he has to. In what is perhaps the novel's best touch, the extent of Casement's gay encounters is revealed only towards the end: late information that subtly reconfigures him in our eyes.

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Manuela Fingueret: Daughter of Silence

Pierce Alquist reviews Manuela Fingueret's Daughter of Silence, translated from the Spanish by Darrell B. Lockhart.

Acclaimed Argentinean poet and novelist Manuela Fingueret details the 1980's neofascist military dictatorship in Argentina and its dark, painful parallels to the Holocaust through the tales and memories of a mother and daughter in her second novel Daughter of Silence. Translated by Darrell B. Lockhart, Daughter of Silence is a crucial addition to "The Americas" series of contemporary Latin American literature published by Texas Tech University Press, for its exploration of violence, national identity, and survival. Fingueret depicts the tradition of a silent female figure, mute and helpless throughout history, and drastically refutes it with the voice of her narrator Rita, a young Jewish Argentinean and incarcerated Peronist revolutionary. Abused, starved, and rapidly losing her mind, Rita weaves together both her memories and the experiences of her mother, Tinkeleh, a Holocaust survivor.

A poignant portrayal of women, Daughter of Silence illustrates these parallels between the Holocaust and Argentina's political past, while also exploring the unique dichotomy between being Jewish and living in Latin America, a primarily Catholic nation. According to Lockhart in his introduction to the text, "Argentina is home to the largest Jewish population in Latin America and one of the largest in the world" and the text explores the complexities of a divided national and religious identity. Rita also meditates on the controversial links between the Holocaust and her Jewish identity, and her imprisonment as a Peronist rebel, warning that history is in a constant state of repetition. In a moment of vulnerability Rita details her path to incarceration and its correlation to her mother's path to the Holocaust, one of marginalization and silence. She counts the strikes against her, her religion, her culture, her politics, and ultimately her sex.

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Manuela Fingueret is an Argentine author, storyteller, poet, journalist, essayist, and editor.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cesar Aira: Varamo

Right now a novel's length seems a neutral force. Over here, you have Haruki Murakami and Peter Nadas lying silent for years, then storming the shores of consciousness with thousand-page dreadnoughts; over there, the Argentine writer César Aira, pumping out books of one-tenth the size that can still put knots in your brain.
Since 1975 he has published more than 80 of them in Spanish, according to his publisher. "Varamo" is the seventh to be translated into English, and the sixth since 2006 by New Directions. It concerns an afternoon and evening in the life of a middle-aged civil-service flunky by that name. The setting is Colón, the Panamanian city by the Caribbean mouth of the canal; it's 1923, nine years after the canal's completion.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gonçalo M. Tavares: Jerusalem

Such questions about technological determinism occupy a vital space in the artistic medulla of the Portuguese novelist Gonçalo M. Tavares. Since 2001, Tavares has been publishing plays, story collections, essays, and novels while concomitantly snagging a whole bevy of literary prizes. Born in 1970, the Portuguese novelist's Jerusalem won the 2005 Jose Saramago Prize and inspired the Nobel Prize-winning Saramago himself to rather hyperbolically state that "in thirty years' time, if not before, [Tavares] will win the Nobel Prize, and I'm sure my prediction will come true…