It would seem that I am slipping and sliding into the role of gringo-dude-who-pays attention-to-Spanish-language /Hispanic Culture. This metamorphosis is attributable to a piece I did for The Daily Beast on Latino books and a follow up in May. And because I received some attention and kind words— well, I am back with more.
Talk to any Latin American woman writer and sooner or later the name of Brazilian Clarice Lispector comes up. New Directions(who we must thank for publish in Roberto Bolano and a number of other important [Spanish language]) writers, has just released four Lispector titles:Aqua Viva, Near to the Wild Heart, The Hour of the Star, The Passion According to G.H Carolyn Kellogg who publishes her enthusiasms at the Los Angeles Times concludes
… Lispector should be, on the shelf with Kafka and Joyce…she can write like Virginia Woolf, imagine doing so without the Bloomsbury cohort of literary intellectuals. These four books showcase her intellectual heft, restless creative spirit, contradiction, humor and darkness — imagine the ferocity it took to begin, in Rio de Janeiro, all on her own.
Venezuelan Alberto Barrera Tyszka’s The Sickness(Tin House) elicits this elegiac description in Chris Adrian’s introduction to the novel,
The Sickness does not offer up platitudes. It destroys them. Yet it provides a reassurance that is believable and real, and it is believable and real because it is not spoken but shown, because we are invited and compelled to live it within the story. We may very well suffer for no reason, and gain no strength from our troubles except the final invulnerability of oblivion; the best we may ever do one day to understand our suffering is to try to forget about it; there may be no plans to our lives except for retroactive fictions—The Sickness does not deny any of this. It may even insist upon it all. But in writing so honestly about illness and suffering, Tyszka throws a light on everything that is not sickness or suffering–the sickness illuminates its own remedy, which has nothing necessarily to do with modern medicine. This is a book that is ultimately about whether or not we are all alone—in our lives, in our suffering, in this world. And it is a book that ultimately makes us less alone, something for which we should all be very grateful to the author. You should read this book if you are congenitally dispirited, like me. But you should also read this book if you are congenitally full of good spirits, if you have never been sick or felt afflicted by the universe, if you have never loved someone who was ill, who suffered, who died. Even if bouncy Tigger is your mascot and spirit guide, you should read it, because one day we are all going to need to have heard its message, and to try to remember it.
Cubop City Bluesby poet Pablo Medina (Grove /Atlantic) is a kind of latino A Thousand and One Nights told by young blind man educated via educated through The Encyclopedia Britannica, The Bible, and The Arabian Nights.
Medina waxes eloquent on the great Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante and more:
This confraternity of tongues allowed me to superimpose the city of my childhood over the city of my future. Havana became New York. New York became Havana. Reading it, my nostalgia ebbed and was replaced with a fascination for the multitudes, the yellow rivers of taxis, and the canyons of steel, glass and concrete — the intoxicating physicality — of my adoptive city. It showed me that Cuban and American cultures, far from competing for my attentions, were complementary versions of something larger. My past was not lost forever. It was tied to literature, and I could retrieve it at will
Claudia Pineiros is a best selling author in her native Argentina and her new tomeAll Yours (translated by Miranda France(Bitter Lemon Press)) is crime story where a betrayed wife who provides an alibi for her homicidal and philandering husband seeks her revenge.
Another Argentine, Alberto Manguel has distinguished himself in numerous ways not the least was his relationship with Jorge Luis Borges. A writer and man of many parts Manguel’s newest opus All Men Are Liars(Translated by Miranda France (Riverhead)) Dwight Garner sagely focuses on the novel’s main theme, “…among the interesting ideas…is the notion that lying, as one interviewee puts it, “is the great theme of South American literature.” Bevilacqua’s[Manguel's novel's character] great novel is titled “In Praise of Lying,” and Mr. Manguel’s own book is surely, as much as anything else, a foxy intellectual treatise on mendacity and its discontents.”
The Future is Not Ours published by Open Letter, one of this country’s three fine publishers of literature in translation anthologizes twenty-three Latin American writers who were born between 1970 and 1980—
Oliverio Coelho, Federico Falco, and Samanta Schweblin (Argentina); Giovanna Rivero (Bolivia); Santiago Nazarian (Brazil); Juan Gabriel Vásquez and Antonio Ungar (Colombia); Ena Lucía Portela (Cuba); Lina Meruane, Andrea Jeftanovic, and Alejandro Zambra (Chile); Ronald Flores (Guatemala); Tryno Maldonado and Antonio Ortuño (México); María del Carmen Pérez Cuadra (Nicaragua); Carlos Wynter Melo (Panama); Daniel Alarcón and Santiago Roncagliolo (Peru); Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro (Puerto Rico); Ariadna Vásquez (Dominican Republic); Ignacio Alcuri and Inés Bortagaray (Uruguay); and Slavko Zupcic (Venezuela). Need I point out that this is a cornucopia of literary delights.
As it turns out Alberto Manguel has some enlightening observations about Catalan novelist Enrique Vila-Matas and his new fiction, Dublinesque (translated by Ann McLean, New Directions)—insights which could easily be applied to Manguel also:
There is a kind of literary fiction that feeds on itself, like an introverted cannibal. Instead of accepting Coleridge’s dictum that a reader must voluntarily suspend disbelief, the novels of this genre proclaim that literature is an artifice, ask the reader for an opinion of the story, put on the airs of a critical or historical essay, and bring on to the page real people who are made to perform the roles normally left to fictional characters…In this self-reflective area of fiction, Vila-Matas has a province of his own. I have some 15 books of his on my shelves, and each one chomps off another piece of the fictional beast.
In Dublinesque, Vila Matas,not surprisingly attends to James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Borges ,George Perec and Paul Auster, among others. through his protagonist a veteran book publisher Manuel points out that Riba that character has an epiphany which Vila Matas expresses:
…the story of the Gutenberg age and of literature in general had started to seem like a living organism that, having reached the peak of its vitality with Joyce, was now, with his direct and essential heir, Beckett, experiencing the irruption of a more extreme sense of the game than ever, but also the beginning of a steep decline in physical form, ageing, the descent to the opposite pier to that of Joyce’s splendour, a freefall towards the port of the murky waters of poverty where in recent times, and for many years now, an old whore walks in an absurd worn-out raincoat at the end of a jetty buffeted by the wind and the rain.
Fred Arroyo (The Region of Lost Names) short stories, shed a calm light into the lives of working-class Hispanic migrants and immigrants, people who have been demonized by politicians and exploited by others He gives voice to the muzzled and valence to the invisible. Arroyo explains,
When nothing else seemed to matter in my life, I received a great mysterious pleasure from writing, I learned its power for discovering new, astonishing things, and I felt a deep longing to form—through evocative images, closely observed details, the moment-to-moment sensations of experience, and the precise weaving of words—a sensuous, compelling, and credible world. What was essential, first and still, is a hunger and love for language. I often return to writers whose words are alive on the page, who create awe and wonder on every page, and who offer insight and knowledge into the pages I’m writing. Because a love for language is not enough, I’ve had to learn how fiction dramatizes the elimination and deepening of mystery, and why the writers I admire struggle with real losses and imaginary gains…
Currently reading Mile Marker Zero by William McKeen (Crown)