jueves, 12 de enero de 2017

Los mares del Sur

Los mares del Sur (Booket, 2016)
by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Spain, 1979

My favorite detective can beat up your favorite detective, got it?  Ace crime caper, situated in late 1970s Barcelona around the dawn of the democratic transition and hence long before the then gritty city was gussied up for the 1992 Summer Olympics, in which the mysterious disappearance--subsequently discovered to be a gruesome murder--of a rich Catalan industrialist and real estate developer leads private detective Pepe Carvalho down a Chandleresque rabbit warren filled with knife-wielding proles and equally cutthroat white collar criminals.  Really enjoyed this punchy, page-turning introduction to the world of Vázquez Montalbán.  Pepe Carvalho, a 40-something foodie, ex-con and former bibliophile who feeds his fireplace with texts from his 2,000 volume personal library since all books are "una chorrada" ["useless clutter"] (27), is an amusing enough center of attention throughout, and Vázquez Montalbán generously seasons the whodunit aspects of his smart and witty story with humor bookish (a send-up of a debate about the origins of the hardboiled novel! in-jokes about Juan Marsé!!) and earthy (a reflection on the advances in "márketing puteril," or streetwalkers' hustling, occasioned by a non-touristy walk down las Ramblas) (90) before the ending shows he's not just fucking around for laughs.  In its world-weary evocation of a troubled time and place, a not unworthy kindred spirit to the likes of Cela's La colmena and Polanski's Chinatown.

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) y amigos

Muchísimas gracias to Paul of By the Firelight for his juicy review of Los mares del Sur [Southern Seas*] here.

*A Gauguin allusion embedded in the title begs the question why the English translation isn't The South Seas rather than the meaningless and nondescript Southern Seas, but go figure.

miércoles, 4 de enero de 2017

2016 Top 12

Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Belarus, 1997)
 Charles Baudelaire's The Flowers of Evil (France, 1857 & 1861)

Albert Camus' La peste (French Algeria, 1947)
Antonio Di Benedetto's Zama (Argentina, 1956)

William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (USA, 1929)

Mouloud Feraoun's Journal.  1955-1962 (Algeria/French Algeria, 1962)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust.  A Tragedy (Germany, 1808 & 1832)
Ryszard Kapuściński's Un día más con vida (Poland, 1976 & 2000)
John le Carré's The Honourable Schoolboy (England, 1977)

J.M.G. Le Clézio's Le chercheur d'or (France, 1985)

Juan Carlos Onetti's Dejemos hablar al viento (Uruguay, 1979)

Richard Overy's Russia's War (England, 1997)
Honorable Mention
Patrick Leigh Fermor's Between the Woods and the Water (England, 1986); Yuri Herrera's Señales que precederán al fin del mundo (Mexico, 2009); Sergio Pitol's El mago de Viena (Mexico, 2005); Juan Villoro's Dios es redondo (Mexico, 2006).

*in alphabetical order by author [en orden alfabético por autor]*

sábado, 10 de diciembre de 2016

A Coffin for Dimitrios

A Coffin for Dimitrios (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2001)
by Eric Ambler
England, 1939

OK, so where were we?  Old-fashioned but super entertaining vintage thrilla (original UK title: The Mask of Dimitrios) in which a chance encounter with the head of the Turkish secret police at a dinner party in Istanbul in 1938 launches overly inquisitive one-time academic turned roman policier scribbler Charles Latimer out on his very own page-turner of an odyssey with stops in Smyrna, Athens, Sofia, Geneva, and the City of Light in search of the back story of a slippery Greek assassin named Dimitrios.  Sort of a true crime Baedeker's if you will--but one in which it doesn't take long for the first pistol to be waved in the desk jockey Latimer's face.  On the plus side, Ambler knows how to bump up the sensation novel aspects of his story with both the attention-grabbing "literary" soundbite ("Hope had come and gone, a fugitive in the scented bosom of illusion" [33]) and a good deal of meta allusion-mongering slyly poking fun at the literati tendencies of the earnest Latimer ("The situation in which a person, imagining fondly that he is in charge of his own destiny, is, in fact, the sport of circumstances beyond his control, is always fascinating.  It is the essential element in most good theatre from the Oedipus of Sophocles to East Lynne" [56]).  Sophocles and Ellen Wood!  On the minus side, my only real complaint and a relatively minor one at that is that the protagonist comes off as a little too wholesome for the unsavory nature of his adventures.  Of course, anybody pondering just how old-fashioned and wholesome things could be here may wonder WTF I'm talking about when you get to all the lowlife bits about Balkan brothels and white slavery, coke and heroin smuggling, political assassinations, pre-WWII genocide and the like.  In short, a juicy genre bonbon for your holiday reading sampler.

Eric Ambler (1909-1998)

lunes, 5 de septiembre de 2016

Spanish Lit Month 2016: All July and August Links

Muchísimas gracias to Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog, our genial co-host for Spanish Lit Month 2016 and of course the founder of the event way back in 2012, as well as to everybody else who read and wrote along with us this summer.  Judging by the ungodly amount of time it took to collate all the July and August links below (note: a few links falling outside of the official event calendar but included here anyway are marked with a pedantic and telltale *), SLM 2016 was an absolutely smashing success in terms of all the Spanish & Basque & Catalan & Galician language literature enjoyed.  Please read on to the end of the post for a chance to see what SLM 2016 participants Amateur Reader (Tom) and Rise have to say about some of their Spanish-language favorites--and until it's time for the next Spanish Lit Month to rock/roll around, hope you enjoy all these freakin' links!

Amanda, Simpler Pastimes
Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo

Amateur Reader (Tom), Wuthering Expectations
Annabel Gaskell, Annabookbel
Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño
The Transmigration of Bodies: ii- networks and conversations by Yuri Herrera
Traces of Sandalwood by Asha Miró & Anna Soler-Pont
Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas

Emma, Book Around the Corner
Exemplary Crimes by Max Aub
Tango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarría

Grant, 1streading's Blog
The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán
Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos
Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún
The She-Devil in the Mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Buenos Aires Affair by Manuel Puig
Mildew by Paulette Jonguitud

JacquiWine, JacquiWine's Journal
The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán

Joe, roughghosts
Poets, artists and other lost souls: Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño
Homecoming - Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador by Horacio Castellanos Moya
In the Shadow of Civil War: Review of Black Bread by Emili Teixidor
Black Bread: Novel Excerpt - Emili Teixidor

John, The Modern Novel
La magnitud de la tragèdia (The Enormity of the Tragedy) by Quim Monzó
Miguel Gutiérrez Dies
La casa de la laguna (The House on the Lagoon) by Rosario Ferré
Campo abierto [Open Field] by Max Aub
Los afectos (Affections) by Rodrigo Hasbún
Benzina (Gasoline) by Quim Monzó
Campo de sangre [Field of Blood] by Max Aub

Julianne Pachico, Never Stop Reading
Two Story Collections
(on Juan Gabriel Vásquez's Lovers on All Saints' Day and one other title)
Rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude
Feast of the Innocents by Evelio Rosero

lizzysiddal, Lizzy's Literary Life
#spanishlitmonth - Reading Notes

Mandy, peakreads
I'll Sell You a Dog by Juan Pablo Villalobos*
a plague on both your houses: The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera translated by Lisa Dillman published by And Other Stories

Melissa Beck, The Book Binder's Daughter
I'll Sell You a Dog by Juan Pablo Villalobos
The Clouds by Juan José Saer
The Plimsoll Line by Juan Gracia Armendáriz
Blitz by David Trueba
Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto

Nicole, bibliographing
Fever, infatuation, and Colonel Chabert*
(on Your Face Tomorrow and The Infatuations by Javier Marías)
"People whose consciences torment them are the exception"
(on Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marías)

Obooki, Obooki's Obloquy
Time of Silence by Luis Martín-Santos

Pat, South of Paris Books
Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig
The Night by Rodrigo Blanco Calderón
None So Blind by J.Á. González Sainz
Une femme suspendue by Lorenzo Silva

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
La última niebla by María Luisa Bombal
Kid Ñandubay by Bernardo Kordon
Hijo de hombre by Augusto Roa Bastos
Lituma en los Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa
Nombre falso by Ricardo Piglia
La oscura historia de la prima Montse by Juan Marsé
Las genealogías by Margo Glantz
La amortajada by María Luisa Bombal

Rise, in lieu of a field guide
La memoria de Shakespeare
(on "Shakespeare's Memory" by Jorge Luis Borges)
The horrible noise of struggles: Two works of fiction by Pedro Paterno
(on The Pact of Biyak-na-Bato and Nínay by Pedro Paterno)
Unforeseen Shadows: Nínay by Pedro Paterno

Scott G.F. Bailey, six words for a hat
Divine Madness: la idiota en casa y iglesia, by Leopoldo Alas
(on La Regenta by Leopoldo Alas)

Séamus, Vapour Trails
Tres by Roberto Bolaño
The Literary Conference & An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira

Simon Lavery, Tredynas Days
A cold and calculating egotism: La Regenta, by Leopoldo Alas
Seduce her for me: Ana's fate sealed in La Regenta 

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
The Sky Over Lima by Juan Gómez Bárcena
One Million Cows by Manuel Rivas
The Lone Man by Bernardo Atxaga
Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún
The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel
The Winterlings by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade
An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira
On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes
Wakolda by Lucía Puenzo

Tony, Tony's Reading List
Umami by Laia Jufresa
God Is Round by Juan Villoro
Vicious by Xurxo Borrazás
The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda
Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) by Laura Esquivel
Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún*

Tony Messenger, Messengers Booker (and more)
The Large Glass by Mario Bellatin
Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane
My Documents by Alejandro Zambra
Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories edited by Jorge F. Hernández
The Youngest Doll by Rosario Ferré
Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
Custody of the Eyes by Diamela Eltit
Underground River and Other Stories by Inés Arredondo
Natural Histories by Guadalupe Nettel
Umami by Laia Jufresa
Ten Women by Marcela Serrano
The Rest Is Silence by Carla Guelfenbein

Bonus: Meet the Readers
As sometimes happens around here, I had an OK idea last year that I failed to execute on in either Spanish Lit Month 2015 or Spanish Lit Month 2016.  That being said, I'm rather sure you'll enjoy these Spanish Lit Month "introductions" to Amateur Reader (Tom) of Wuthering Expectations and Rise of in lieu of a field guide thanks to those two and no thanks at all to me.  My questions/comments are in italics; their answers aren't.  Thanks, of course, to Tom and Rise for humoring me even as their responses marinated for well over a year!

Amateur Reader (Tom), Wuthering Expectations
 1) What's the first Spanish-language work that you remember really grabbing your attention as a a reader?
Don Quixote (1605/1615), which I read in high school as a comic adventure story and soon after in college as the first postmodern novel.  Subsequent reading has shown that it is many other things as well.
2) What are three of your all-time favorite Spanish-language works?
Don Quixote; Ficciones (1945); One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).  A logical chain of books.
 3) What's a criminally overlooked Spanish-language author or work that you would like to recommend to other readers?
The entire body of medieval and early modern Spanish literature aside from Don Quixote is overlooked by English-language readers.  It is so rich, and so readable.  For a single work, I will pick Life Is a Dream (1635) by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, which is as good as Shakespeare.
Please select one favorite post on a Spanish-language author or topic from the Wuthering Expectations archives.

Rise, in lieu of a field guide
 1)  What's the first Spanish-language work that you remember really grabbing your attention as a a reader?
The Savage Detectives freed me from a lot of things and inspired me to start writing about books. 
2) What are three of your all-time favorite Spanish-language works?
The Oleza novels (Our Father San Daniel and The Leprous Bishop) by Gabriel Miró, trans. Marlon James Sales, is at surface a story of clerics in a backward village.  But its secrets and undercurrents describe the complex negotiations and painful compromises in this secular world.
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (eds. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby) is a surfeit of ideas, constructed and reconstructed, in a loopy adventure of reflecting mirrors and mazes and doubles.
Dark Back of Time, among the dense, atmospheric novels by Javier Marías, is an unstructured, memory-soaked investigation into the art of metafiction.
3) What's a criminally overlooked Spanish-language author or work that you would like to recommend to other readers?
El Folk-Lore Filipino (1889) by Isabelo de los Reyes is hard to classify in terms of genre.  It may be a "folklore novel" and perhaps an early instance of the encyclopedia novel.  It is revisionary and revolutionary in intent, a compendium of local fables, customs, and traditions set off against Spanish colonialism.  More than a sociological and cultural curiosity, it is a compendium of worldview.  The first of two volumes of this classic work in Spanish is translated by Salud C. Dizon and Maria Elinora Peralta-Imson and is published in 1994 by University of the Philippines Press.
Please select one favorite post on a Spanish-language author or topic from the in lieu of a field guide archives.
I think my multiple posts on the Quixote and Quixote-like novels allowed me to reflect on the nature of fictional reality and deepened my understanding of the novel.  The translation by John Rutherford is superb.
One of my favorite posts from Rise: A cosmogony of Javier Marías's major fiction.

miércoles, 31 de agosto de 2016

La amortajada

La amortajada (Editorial Andrés Bello, 1996)
por María Luisa Bombal
Argentina, 1938

Ana María, como la narradora en La última niebla de Bombal, es una esposa infeliz.  "Oh, la tortura del primer amor, de la primera desilusión!  ¡Cuando se lucha con el pasado, en lugar de olvidarlo!" ella grita -en un modo de hablar- dentro de un monólogo interior telenovelesco (107).  A diferencia de la otra narradora, Ana María, "la amortajada" del título, está muerta.  Con la ayuda de otro/a narrador/a en tercera persona, la novelita sigue los pensamientos y remordimientos del personaje mientras que ella espera el cortejo fúnebre que la llevará a la cripta familiar.  Qué gótico, ¿no?  Además del truco con la narradora muerta, Bombal trabaja duro para mantener el interés del lector.  Aunque el relato tiene un lado "filosófico" (pregunta: "¿Era preciso morir para saber ciertas cosas?" [116]), lo que me gustaba más era el ambiente inquietante de una obra que habla de "las dulces culebras" de la muerte (160) y versa sobre la tumba con tal extrañeza extravagante y/o feminista como esto (166):

Hay pobres mujeres enterradas, perdidas en cementerios inmensos como ciudades -y horror- hasta con calles asfaltadas.  Y en los lechos de ciertos ríos de aguas negras las hay suicidas que las corrientes incesantemente golpean, roen, desfiguran y golpean.  Y hay niñas, recién sepultas, a quienes deudos inquietos por encontrar, a su vez, espacio libre, en una cripta estrecha y sombría, reducen y reducen deseosos casi hasta de borrarlas del mundo de los huesos.  Y hay también jóvenes adúlteras que imprudentes citas atraen a barrios apartados y que un anónimo hace sorprender y recostar de un balazo sobre el pecho del amante, y cuyos cuerpos, profanados por las autopsias, se abandonan, días y días, a la infamia de la morgue.
¡Oh, Dios mío, insensatos hay que dicen que una vez muertos no debe preocuparnos nuestro cuerpo!

La amortajada, publicada por primera vez en 1938 por Editorial Sur en Buenos Aires, se puede encontrar en las páginas 96-176 de las Obras completas de la chilena Bombal (1910-1980, arriba) compilada por Lucía Guerra (Santiago de Chile: Editorial André Bello, 1996).

Las genealogías

Las genealogías (Editorial Pre-Textos, 2006)
by Margo Glantz
Mexico, 1981 & 1997

Mi fuerte nunca ha sido la geografía, siempre confundo los ríos del norte con los del sur y sobre todo los que se salen de cauce americano y eso que mi madre se llama Elizabeth Mijáilovna Shapiro y mi padre Jacob Osherovich Glantz, en privado, y para sus amigos Lucia y Nucia o Yánkl y Lúcinka, a veces Yasha o Luci y en Rusia, él, Ben Osher, y mamá, Liza.  Esta constatación (y la pronunciación adecuada de los nombres, cosa que casi nunca ocurre) me hacen sentir personaje de Dostoievski y entender algo de mis contradicciones, por aquello del alma rusa encimada al alma mexicana.

[Geography has never been my strong suit. I always confuse the rivers in the north with those in the south and above all those originating in American waters and this even though my mother's name is Elizabeth Mijáilovna Shapiro and my father's name is Jacob Osherovich Glantz--in private--and Lucia and Nucia or Yánkl and Lúcinka or sometimes Yasha or Luci to their friends and, in Russia, he's Ben Osher and mom's Liza.  This state of affairs (and the appropriate pronunciation of names, something which almost never happens) makes me feel like a Dostoyevsky character and understand something of my contradictions as far as the Russian soul heaped on top of the Mexican soul goes.]
(Las genealogías, 61)

What was it like for Russian and Ukrainian Jews to emigrate to Catholic Mexico midway through the 1920s?  Closer to home, what was it like for their Mexican-born children to grow up nostalgic for a land they never knew except as filtered through secondhand memories in faraway Mexico City?  These are just two of the questions at the heart of Margo Glantz's charming, vignette-driven Las genealogías, a book I read as autobiography/family history but a book translated into English as The Family Tree: An Illustrated Novel (novel?!?) and a book fellow Mexican writer Álvaro Enrigue has hailed as "a major influence on Mexican literature during the second half of the 20th century": the proof of which is that "its violent mixing of narrative genres--autobiography, chronicle, novel, short story--became a common literary form" due to Glantz's innovations.  Alleged Pitol-like genre mashing notwithstanding, one of the things I enjoyed most about Glantz's, ahem, nonfiction novel is the warm authorial voice that emerges from out of the shadows of all the family histories.  Whether recounting the hate crime that almost saw her Trotsky-lookalike father stoned to death by an antisemitic mob in 1939--"No llores, judío, vengo a salvarte" ["Don't cry, Jew, I'm here to save you"], blandly said the fire chief who came to his rescue (115)--or meditating on the massive box office appeal of Yiddish theater in relation to the smallish size of Mexico City's Jewish community circa 1925-1960--"¿Qué mueve a los judíos del exilio a ver y cultivar esas obras de teatro?  ¿No será una nostalgia de un territorio que nunca les ha pertenicido, pero que sin embargo en algo fue suyo?" ["What drives Jews of the diaspora to watch and cultivate these works of theater?  Might it not be a longing for a land which has never belonged to them but which was nonetheless theirs in some part?"] (125)-- or paying tribute to her poet father, a one-time drinking buddy of Isaac Babel's in pre-Red Cavalry Odessa, who versified in Ukrainian, in Russian, in Yiddish and in Spanish--"Todo emigrante que viene a América se siente Colón y si viene a México quiere ser Cortés. Mi padre prefirió a Colón y, como Carpentier, escribió un poema épico lírico sobre el navegante genovés" ["Every emigrant who comes to America feels like Columbus and if he comes to Mexico wants to be Cortés.  My father preferred Columbus and, like Carpentier, wrote a lyrical epic poem about the Genoese navigator"] (130)--Glantz is delightful company for this flip through her family photo album (literal and otherwise, this "novel" is chock full of pix of the Glantz familia through the ages).  A total treat.

Margo Glantz

domingo, 21 de agosto de 2016

Spanish Lit Month(s) 2016: 8/14-8/20 Links

Juan Marsé and friend

As our Spanish Lit Month(s) 2016 readers continue huffing and puffing desperate to lunge for that mixed metaphor of a finish line coming up at the end of the month, I just wanted to thank Stu for letting me co-host the event with him for another year.  Thanks, too, to all of you who have participated either by contributing reviews of your own or commenting on the reviews on blogs and Twitter.  It's been fun.  Anyway, here's the latest round of links for your reading enjoyment.  ¡Hasta pronto!

John, The Modern Novel

Julianne Pachico, Never Stop Reading

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
Wakolda by Lucía Puenzo

Tony Messenger, Messengers Booker (and more)
Natural Histories by Guadalupe Nettel
Umami by Laia Jufresa

Guadalupe Nettel