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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