31 October 2011

Celebrating José Saramago


Margaret Jull Costa's profile of José Saramago can be read "online only" at Granta. What caught my eye was her quote of Saramago in an interview, discussing the point where he realized a way to proceed more effectively with his storytelling, the very point of his transition to a "non-punctuated style".

I was already at the twentieth section of the book [Levantado do chão] and not very happy with it, when I realised how it could be written. I saw that I would only be able to write it if I did so as if I were actually telling the story. That could not be done by putting so-called oral language into writing, because that’s impossible, but by introducing into my writing a mechanism of apparent spontaneity, apparent digression and apparent disorganisation in the discourse. I say ‘apparent’ since I am only too aware of how much work it took to ensure that it turned out like that.

I underlined "apparent spontaneity ...". It described a realistic style which I find very absorbing, a style in which method is closely tied to content and form. It's the same spontaneous style one can also detect in César Aira and Javier Marías. Spontaneity in these writers can be a result of a desire for "authenticity" (I use this term loosely, as it has many pitfalls).

Margaret Jull Costa analyzed this writing style (which is closer to that of Marías whom she also translated):
In reducing punctuation down to commas and full stops, in letting a sentence follow the natural digressions of thought, Saramago cuts himself free from the straitjacket of conventional realistic literature, allowing himself, as narrator, to carry the reader along on the wave of those thought processes, those digressions. [...]

One cannot help but see this egalitarian approach to both punctuation and narration as an expression of Saramago’s declared anarcho-communism and atheism, as cocking a snook at orthodoxy and authority, be it God or Government, and as a way of privileging the spoken voice, the ordinary human voice. [...]

Read more here.

(Image sources: Asymptote and The New York Times, from Small Memories; prae.hu)

29 October 2011

Carlos Fuentes's best Latin American novels of the past and present centuries

(Photo: Ivan Garcia / AFP/Getty Images)

The Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes's top 10 lists of best Latin American novels were subjective but still worth a look for sure.

No, Bolaño was not on it. Nor were the "three or four best contemporary writers in Spanish language" he endorsed. That would be, in no order: Enrique Vila-Matas, César Aira, and Javier Marías. (I'm not sure who occupied the fourth spot. I'm almost sure it was Javier Cercas. But he was also very enthusiastic about Pedro Lemebel and Rodrigo Rey Rosa.)

The lists drawn by Fuentes were published in El País. I'm including the English titles when available.

20th century best Latin American novels:

El Aleph, Jorge Luis Borges (The Aleph)
Los pasos perdidos, Alejo Carpentier (The Lost Steps)
Rayuela, Julio Cortázar (Hopscotch)
Cien años de soledad, Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude)
Paradiso, José Lezama Lima (Paradiso)
La vida breve, Juan Carlos Onetti (A Brief Life)
Noticias del imperio, Fernando del Paso (News from the Empire)
Yo el supremo, Augusto Roa Bastos (I the Supreme)
Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo (Pedro Páramo)
Conversación en La Catedral, Mario Vargas Llosa (Conversation in The Cathedral)
Santa Evita, Tomás Eloy Martínez (Santa Evita)

21st century best Latin American novels:

Historia secreta de Costaguana, Juan Gabriel Vásquez (The Secret History of Costaguana)
En busca de Klingsor, Jorge Volpi (In Search of Klingsor)
Oír su voz, Arturo Fontaine
El desierto, Carlos Franz (The Absent Sea)
Las muertes paralelas, Sergio Missana
Amphitryon, Ignacio Padilla (Shadow Without a Name)
El síndrome de Ulises, Santiago Gamboa
Abril rojo, Santiago Roncagliolo (Red April)

See also: Fuentes's 1981 interview at the Paris Review. Also his recent interview (bilingual) at Literal magazine where he talked about Vlad, his latest book about vampires, and political issues in Mexico.

(via By the Firelight)

Breathing Bolaño

Here’s a curious book. Actually, two-books-in-one: two poets having a conversation about writing poems through poems. Meta-poetry, if you will.

Breathing Bolaño: Breathing by Tod Thilleman & From Corrido of Bolaño by Richard Blevins (Spuyten Duyvil, 2009)

The publisher page has a link to a review, a link to a reading by and interview with Blevins, and an excerpt.

28 October 2011

Bolaño Infra

A great little find for fans (and maybe even future fans) of a certain 1998 Roberto Bolaño novel, Bolaño Infra.  1975-1977: Los años que inspiraron Los detectives salvajes [Infra Bolaño, 1975-1977: The Years That Inspired The Savage Detectives] provides a short but thoroughly satisfying account of Bolaño's mid-twenties in Mexico during the time when the then aspiring poet was co-founding the Infrarrealist movement and raising hell with a gang of bohemian friends and sympathizers who would later become immortalized within the pages of The Savage Detectives as the "visceral realists."

What a find! By Richard's positive review at Caravana de recuerdos, this book by Montserrat Madariaga Caro looks like a fine addition to the ever expanding shelf devoted to Bolaniana. Let it be translated and the world will be right.


"A childlike joy in storytelling"

If his books met with no resistance, that would mean that they weren’t upsetting accepted standards for judgement and setting new ones, which is what they’ve done in Argentina, where Aira is a strong pole of attraction and repulsion. 

Chris Andrews talks to Scott Esposito (link) about his translation of Varamo by César Aira.

26 October 2011

Quimera's ten most important Spanish novels of the decade

In December 2009, the Quimera magazine published a list of the 10 most important Spanish novels of the decade (2000-2009) as voted by 25 writers and critics. It included novels by writers who were born or who permanently lived in Spain. I reproduce the list below. Translations, if available, are indicated.

1. 2666, Roberto Bolaño (2666, trans. Natasha Wimmer)
2. Bartleby y compañía, Enrique Vila-Matas (Bartleby & Co., trans. Jonathan Dunne)
3. El vano ayer, Isaac Rosa
4. Nocilla Dream, Agustín Fernández-Mallo
5. Soldados de Salamina, Javier Cercas (Soldiers of Salamis, trans. Anne McLean)
6. Tu rostro mañana, Javier Marías (Your Face Tomorrow, trans. Margaret Jull Costa)
7. Rabos de lagartija, Juan Marsé (Lizard Tails, trans. Nick Caistor)
8. España, Manuel Vilas
9. Lo real, Belén Gopegui
10. Concierto del No Mundo, A. G. Porta (The No World Concerto, trans. Rhett McNeil)

A. G. Porta, the last writer on the list, was Bolaño's co-author of the novel Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce (1984, "Advice from a Morrison Follower to a Joyce Fanatic").

(via Jorge Carrión)

25 October 2011

True Dawn, True Dusk, Tremble of Twilight

     The novel, so unanimously acclaimed, was called Twilight and its plot was very simple: a boy of fourteen abandons his family to join the ranks of the revolution. Soon he's engaged in combat against Wrangel's troops. In the midst of battle he's injured and his comrades leave him for dead. But before the vultures come to feed on the bodies, a spaceship drops onto the battlefield and takes him away, along with some of the other mortally wounded soldiers....
     It wasn't only Gorky who read Twilight. Other famous people did, too, and although none of them wrote to the author to express their admiration, they didn't forget his name, because not only were they famous, their memories were good, too.

2666, pp. 718, 721

Global capitalism in 2666

The heart of Bolaño’s critique in 2666 is this: On all sides of the story, the reader is shown people who must step forward to recognize the origins of their way of life if the violence at its core is to be stopped. The diffuse, disparate, and desperate nature of global capitalism has a sheltering and obfuscating digital effect marked by the introduction of false analogs that prevent the acknowledgment of the origins, consequences, or resolutions of our plights. There is a voluntary excess inherent in the system that allows this gap in understanding, making these changes in perspective true only in its enactment. The enactment and making true of this excess is the expenditure that joins the world of global capital under a single system and enforces the separation of its disparate parts. The system of global capitalism requires the ignorance generated by the separation of its parts to maintain the frenzied, excessive activity of its cycle.

"Lost Analogs A Critique of Global Capitalism in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666" by Matthew Boyd, HESO Magazine

Read the full essay here.

21 October 2011

The Savage Detectives Group Read

Every book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me, says one Juan García Madero. A book is the best pillow there is, says Roberto Bolaño.

Richard of Caravana de recuerdos and I think one of these notable pillow books could be Bolaño's cult object Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives, translated by Natasha Wimmer). We are hosting a group read of this novel in January 2012.

All are cordially invited – rebels, poets, bloggers, slackers. It's not poetry reading but it could have the same effect.

Savagery or previous experience as detective isn't required to participate. Nor is one expected to be a member of an avant-garde group like the visceral realists.

All one needs to do is sleep on the book and maybe join in on the discussion. Readers become "salvajes" in their own right.

Bloggers may post reviews and impressions anytime in January but "official" discussion starts on the last weekend of the month (Jan. 27-29). We'll link to your reviews.

About the book. At around 600 pages, it's a hefty pillow. We can't promise a wild poet chase, but wildness and unwieldiness shouldn't be in short supply. (Here's an excerpt.)

This early announcement should give readers plenty of headway. It's probably best to start early with the detective work. Or you can wait till All Souls Day, when our narrator began to write his adventures. Or the new year. It may turn out to be a firecracking yearstarter.

You can read this as part of the Bolaño Reading Challenge. It's supposed to end this year, but we'll count this toward your future Godzilla status.


Amateur Reader (Tom), Wuthering Expectations
Scott, seraillon
Frances, Nonsuch Book

The red image is from a design by Jenny Volvovski (From Cover to Cover). It is used with permission. You may copy and insert this badge in your blog.


October Asymptote

The "fat" October issue of online Asymptote contains an excerpt I think the opening, with translator's note from Murakami Haruki's 1Q84 (trans. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel), Czeslaw Milosz's late poems translated by his son, and translations by Lydia Davis and George Szirtes.

I'm also happy to see translated poems by one of my favorite contemporary Filipino poets, Allan Popa.

A reading from the book of Dr. Aira

Katherine Silver reads a short extract from her translation of César Aira's Dr. Aira's Miracle Cures, coming in 2012 from New Directions.

At this link (via Conversational Reading).

You can also watch Donald A. Yates talk about Borges in the same video.

See also: more interviews with Silver at Too Many Books in the Kitchen and Center for the Art of Translation blog, and also her three essays in Sampsonia Way.

"The Erotic Place of Translation"
"Literary Translation and Subversion"
"Maintaining Boundaries (and Borders)"

10 October 2011

"Latin America, a Hologram" (Jorge Volpi)

Volpi at a book fair in Bogotá, 2011. (Photo by: periodismosinafan.com at Flickr)

One of the best takes on the Bolaño phenomenon was that by Jorge Volpi, a Mexican novelist, essayist, literature scholar, and former lawyer. Volpi's best known novel is En busca de Klingsor (1999, In Search of Klingsor), a fusion of WWII history, Nazism, and scientific inquiry. He had been an acquaintance of Bolaño, having spoken to him on many occasions. Like Javier Cercas in the novel Soldiers of Salamis and Enrique Vila-Matas in Montano, Volpi has featured Bolaño as a character in one of his novels, El fin de la locura ("An End to Madness", still untranslated).

The following is an excerpt from a speech he gave on "The Future of Latin American Fiction." The essay titled "Latin America, a Hologram" was serialized in five parts in Three Percent, 9-13 November 2009. This is from part 3 of the speech, a section called "Bolaño, perturbation."

3. Bolaño, perturbation
by Jorge Volpi

Not since the Boom, or to be precise, since García Márquez published One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967, had a Latin American writer enjoyed such sudden celebrity as Roberto Bolaño: After his success in Spanish—winning the Herralde and Romulo Gallegos prizes and his conversion into the guru of the new generation—he received unanimous praise from the French critics, his fame spread to the rest of Europe, and, five years after his death, it exploded in the United States, one of the most difficult media for foreign literature to penetrate. The publication of 2666 in English at the beginning of 2009 became the fifth moment of the Bolaño delirium, and so began the construction of a global icon: thousands of copies sold, each article and review more praise-filled than the last—including in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and the New Yorker, the trend-setters of intellectual fashion—and the launch of a legend that combined his personal excesses and his early death. And if that were not enough, his heirs abandoned the agency of Carmen Balcells, the mythical co-founder of the Boom, for Andrew Wylie, aka the Jackal, the New York literary agent who has concentrated more Nobel prizes and cult authors per square meter in his office (and who has already announced the recovery of a novel that Bolaño left among his papers) than any other agent.

While reading the reviews and articles published in the North American literary media about Bolaño, I was continually surprised that the American reading of Bolaño, especially the reinvention of his biography, had almost nothing in common with the reception of Bolaño in Spanish. I do not believe, as some Spanish critics and even some of his friends do, that the American Bolaño is a falsification, a marketing product, a forced reinvention, or a simple misunderstanding: on the contrary, maybe the power of his texts lives in the diverse interpretations, sometimes contrasting or opposed, that it is possible to extract from his books. But the reception of his American critics reveals, however, another phenomenon: not only does the Bolaño read and recreated by them have nothing to do with his Spanish reception, but it seems that none of his panegyrists took the trouble of reading what the Spanish speaking critics had been saying about him—with almost always the same admiration—for more than a decade. When he arrived in the United States, he suddenly became a cult author; Bolaño got across the desert, crossed the border, and escaped the literary migration, but he could not take his family with him: as a whole, the American critics boasted about their discovery, as if they were responsible for unearthing Bolaño; they considered only their contrived mythological creation and didn’t take the real world into account.

Few authors were so conscious of their place in world literature, especially in the Latin America world, as this Chilean author: each one of his texts is a double answer—it might be worthwhile to say a slap in the face—to the traditions that obsessed him. Of course, none of that appears in the readings of the American critics. For a Mexican like myself, who also had the opportunity to converse with Bolaño dozens of times, it’s hard to believe that a book as plagued with references to Mexican literary history as The Savage Detectives—in my opinion, a boxing ring in which Bolaño settles accounts with his past—could be read, understood, and enjoyed by a media that totally ignores them. However, that is what happened: his success in the United States was absolute. What does that mean? In the first place, the book is so universal—and so open—that Bolaño’s scholarly winks lose their importance; and perhaps the prejudices and the superficiality of the American reading are huge. Bolaño has not been glorified in English for being Latin American or Chilean, nor because of his ties with this part of the world—he could easily have been Thai or Kuwaiti—but for other reasons, literary as well as extra-literary, and his case is not comparable, in any measure, to other writers of the region—or even Isabel Allende—and perhaps only to Haruki Murakami, the only international literary star capable of casting a similar shadow in English.

You can read the rest of part 3 here, and the rest of the essay at these links: part 1, part 2, part 4, part 5.

Volpi so far has three books published in translation: In Search of Klingsor, Season of Ash, and most recently, In Spite of the Dark Silence.

More on Volpi at the following links:

Wikipedia page  
Interview at BOMB magazine

08 October 2011

"Airports: Frontier Nations" (Andrés Neuman)

If – if only – it were possible, many people would prefer to abolish waiting. They’d much rather disintegrate and immediately reappear in the place they want to be. Today, all transitions seem like obstacles. Seen from that impatient point of view, there are places we find odious: bus and train stations, waiting rooms, airports. At the same time, speed has rendered these waiting spaces absolutely essential. While our anxieties bounce off their walls, these temporary homes make possible the contemplative mode we need to slip into just to keep on running. The introspective effect of airports fascinates me. Bizarre structures that combine haste and quietude, strength and thin air. Within them, the vertigo of our lives collides with a sublime contradiction: We’ve come here to fly, but once inside we barely move. We have the urgent need to leave, but the interior rhythm of the building, its ceremonies and its rules, oblige us to wait. We are that obligatory patience. An urgent future that somehow seems far off.

- From Andrés Neuman's short essay in Granta (Online Only).

Andrés Neuman (b. 1977) is a poet and novelist from Argentina. He published his first novel Bariloche when he was 22. The novel was First Finalist for the Herralde Prize, for which Detective Bolaño sat as a member of the prize committe. Neuman was included in the "Bogotá-39 list" - 39 most outstanding Latin American authors under 39 - and in Granta's Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.

His first novel to appear in English will be The Traveller's Century (Pushkin Press, 2012), translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia. The book's synopsis from the publisher's site is rather amusing, and annoying, for being described in abstract terms.
The Traveller of the Century is an original and ambitious experiment–a work that invites us to look at the nineteenth century with twenty-first-century eyes. A novel that rediscovers the inspiration of classic narrative from a contemporary point of view. A dialogue between the Europe of the Restoration and the political plans of the European Union. A narrative bridge spanning the past and the global issues of our present–immigration, interculturalism, translation, nationalism and the emancipation of women. Love as a metaphor of translation, translation as a metaphor of love. An exceptional, fun, mature novel from a writer wise beyond his years.

If a book's storyline is that hard to summarize, so that the publisher had to resort to doling out the themes, then it's certainly one of two things. But the mention of love and translation in the same sentence perks up my ears.

NEUMAN (Foto: Pepe Marín)

04 October 2011

Yet another excerpt from Tres ...

... is online at The Threepenny Review. The excerpt is taken from the first poem in Tres, "Prose in Autumn in Gerona", in Laura Healy's translation.


(Related posts)

P.S. Curious readers can read the whole Tres in another translation posted in Scribd.

02 October 2011

"I don’t look so much for feelings and emotions, as for alternative ways of thinking." - short interview with César Aira

César Aira's interview with The Victorian Writer magazine was a short one, three questions, but packed with bizarre opinions, like "art has no effect on a person’s life, nor on society, nor on history."

The interview was reprinted here: http://wheelercentre.com/dailies/post/efdeb45918bb/